What was meant to be a five-hour gambling cruise became a nearly 24-hour ordeal for 96 passengers and 27 crew members after their casino boat, The Escapade, became stuck on a sandbar off the US East Coast.
The cruise departed Savannah, Georgia, on the evening of 15 July and according to passengers that spoke to ABC News, the 174-foot-long boat abruptly struck an object at about 9.30pm, which they weren’t notified about until after midnight.
ABC News reported that the vessel was stranded about 1.8 miles off the north end of Tybee Island, east of Virginia. The generator remained operational, as did the air-conditioner, and passengers were given meals in the evening and the morning.
The Savannah Morning News stated that the ship reported its grounding to the Coast Guard shortly before midnight, with the captain claiming a malfunction with the chart plotter which had caused it to veer off course. Passengers Eaton and Joe Simmons claimed that the captain had informed those on board that the sandbar was not yet on the nautical charts.
A salvage company hired by the casino boat owners attempted to re-float the vessel during the high tide the following day, but the attempts were unsuccessful. The water was too shallow for the coast guard cutters to pull alongside The Escapade, and passengers had to then be evacuated on rubber Zodiac boats and transferred to a Coast Guard vessel. They were then taken to Cockspur Island where buses were waiting to collect them and take them back to their cars, according to the Savannah Morning News. Four people were allegedly ferried ashore by helicopter, not being able to handle the jump from The Escapade and then the rope-ladder climb onto the Coast Guard cutter, which passengers described as a ‘Fear Factor’ moment.
Passenger Sandi Simmons told The Savannah Morning News, shortly after stepping out of the bus, “I’m still trying to get my equilibrium back after spending hours on a boat that was tilted to one side. It was so uncomfortable; we had to wear life jackets the entire time.” Another passenger described how they had slept on the floor of the boat using their life jackets as pillows and table cloths as blankets.
It was the maiden voyage of the Escapade from its Savannah berth, operated by Tradewinds Casino Cruises, and passengers had been invited to board for free. For some of these passengers there is little doubt that it will be their last such cruise and they will likely mitigate risks in future by taking their gaming to a casino based on firm, dry land.