SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The fishing trip off the rugged north coast of St. Lucia was supposed to last all day, but about four hours into the journey, the boat's electric system crackled and popped.
Dan Suski, a 30-year-old business owner and information technology expert from San Francisco, had been wrestling a 200-pound marlin in rough seas with help from his sister, Kate Suski, a 39-year-old architect of Seattle.
He was still trying to reel in the fish when water rushed into the cabin and flooded the engine room, prompting the captain to radio for help as he yelled out their coordinates.
Thus began an ordeal in which the siblings swam 14 hours to reach land. They lived to tell about it back in St. Lucia, safe but shaken.
They recalled that the waves kept pounding the boat they had chartered from the local company "Reel Irie" in the eastern Caribbean island. It was April 21 around noon, and the trip was supposed to be a highlight of their sunny vacation.
As more water flooded the boat, the captain threw life preservers to the Suskis.
"He said, 'Jump out! Jump out!'" Kate Suski recalled in a telephone interview Thursday with The Associated Press.
The Suskis obeyed and jumped into the water with the captain and first mate. Less than five minutes later, the boat sank.
The group was at least eight miles (13 kilometers) from shore, and waves more than twice their size tossed them.
"The captain was telling us to stay together, and that help was on its way and that we needed to wait," Kate Suski said.
The group waited for about an hour, but no one came.
"I was saying, 'Let's swim, let's swim. If they're coming, they will find us. We can't just stay here,'" she recalled.
As they began to swim, the Suskis lost sight of the captain and first mate amid the burgeoning swells. Soon after, they also lost sight of land amid the rain.
"We would just see swells and gray," Dan Suski said.
A plane and a helicopter appeared in the distance and hovered over the area, but no one spotted the siblings.
Several hours went by, and the sun began to set.
"There's this very real understanding that the situation is dire," Kate Suski said. "You come face-to-face with understanding your own mortality ... We both processed the possible ways we might die. Would we drown? Be eaten by a shark?"
"Hypothermia?" Dan Suski asked.
"Would our legs cramp up and make it impossible to swim?" the sister continued.
They swam for 12 to 14 hours, talking as they pushed and shivered their way through the ocean. Dan Suski tried to ignore images of the movie "Open Water" that kept popping into his head and its story of a scuba-diving couple left behind by their group and attacked by sharks. His sister said she also couldn't stop thinking about sharks.
"I thought I was going to vomit I was so scared," she said.
When they finally reached in exhaustion within 30 feet (9 meters) of land, they realized they couldn't get out of the water.
"There were sheer cliffs coming into the ocean," she said. "We knew we would get crushed."
Dan Suski thought they should try to reach the rocks anyway, but his sister disagreed.