Shipwreck survivor tells his tale

March 24, 2010 4:39:36 AM PDT
When a Naperville man was reported missing after trying to sail from Florida to the Bahamas, his family feared the worst. But he survived a shipwreck.

Last month, Richard McClow, 79, set sail for the Bahamas from Fort Pierce, Florida but ended up shipwrecked on a deserted island.

McClow's family in Naperville spent three painfully long days last month wondering if he was alive or dead. He was missing at sea in the Bahamas. The Coast Guard launched a massive search. And what was he thinking? That it was one of the great adventures of his life.

"When I stepped ashore, I said, 'well, I think I am going to have to do my Robinson Crusoe act," said McClow.

As McClow tells the story, he has a devilish grin and a sparkle in his eyes. You have to wonder if he liked it.

"Oh, I wasn't frightened," said McClow. "I love challenges. And this was kind of like my adventure, sailing around the world. I was really just getting invigorated by the whole scene and the whole challenge."

McClow spends winters on his boat in Florida. Last month, he set out to sea from Fort Pearce to go visit his girlfriend in the Bahamas. But he says he made a tactical error when he dropped anchor near a deserted island. A surprise storm front moved in, the winds smashed his new 23-foot cabin cruiser against rocks, tipping it over with him inside. He managed to swim to shore, alone and cold and hungry. He survived on food items that washed onshore from his boat.

"So I had Chinese carryout," said McClow. "Then I had a bunch of snack bars."

The first day, the only sign of life he saw was a wild pig. The next day, a sailboat came close to shore, McClow waived a white flag but says the sailor ignored him. Even that didn't bother him much until day three, when he woke up, saw several boats, but was too exhausted to get up.

"At that moment I got depressed and I thought, 'well, I've had it.' So I laid down again, and then about three minutes later I heard voices. And those were the fishermen," said McClow.

The fisherman rescued him and Dick McClow went back home to Naperville. He says he regrets that his family worried and admits he should have prepared better for the trip. They are lessons he says he'll use the next time he sets out on this voyage. But for now McClow is busy training for a state swimming meet, hoping to set a record in the 50-yard freestyle for his age group.