Stranded at sea: South Florida couple shares story of 28-day voyage on sailboat in Caribbean

Couple speaks exclusively with WPTV about harrowing journey
Posted at 10:54 AM, Feb 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-10 10:54:30-05

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — "Tears come to my eyes as I write this; it's been such a trial," Marty Widrick read aloud from a notebook. "Exhausting, at times, even defeating. Everything seems to be against us. How can so many things go wrong and continue to? We are at the point of having the backup of the backups running out."

The words only begin to tell the entire story, a thrilling journey to the Caribbean Sea for the holidays.

Widrick and her boyfriend, Sven Karrlson, spent 28 days on Karrlson's sailboat together. It was the trip of a lifetime -- one intended to be a romantic outing on the high seas and one the couple will never forget.

By the time the couple arrived back on dry land, their voyage seemed a stream of constant problems -- a boat battered by storms -- and a trip plagued by problems because of the pandemic.

Widrick and Karrlson spoke of their ordeal in an exclusive interview with Contact 5 investigator Michael Buczyner on their boat, now docked in Fort Lauderdale.

"I was very excited," Widrick told WPTV. "So I was looking for a great trip down to St. Bartes."

Marty Widrick and Sven Karrlson smiling at sea
Mary Widrick and Sven Karrlson are all smiles on their trip at sea in December 2020.

It would be Widrick's first sailing trip with Karrlson, a captain with a lifetime of experience behind the helm.

The two departed Fort Lauderdale on Dec. 2, 2020, setting sail for the Caribbean.

"We had checked to make sure the winds were good because Sven didn't want me to be in too high of seas for our first time out," Widrick said. "We were concerned that the winds wouldn't be enough."

But just hours after departing Fort Lauderdale, the weather changed.

"The sea was coming up pretty quick, and the wind turned more against us," Karrlson recalled.

Michael Buczyner speaks to Marty Widrick and Sven Karrlson on their sailboat docked in Fort Lauderdale
Contact 5 investigator Michael Buczyner listens as Marty Widrick and Sven Karrlson share their story of survival from the very sailboat where they spent 28 days stranded at sea.

Twenty-five-foot seas battered the 50-foot sailboat, damaging its sails while the couple traveled the open ocean.

"Very quickly, the sail was jammed, destroyed and got completely wound into the mast," Widrick said.

Widrick said after the sail jammed, "it threw the boat around."

"It was scary," Widrick told WPTV. "You know, to me, my first time out, it was very scary."

Sitting in 2,000 feet of water and unable to anchor, the couple fired up the engine and motored south to try and make repairs.

"We thought if we could go to Cuba, we could anchor, find shallow water, just for a little bit, long enough to unjam the sail," Widrick explained, noting Cuba was the closest location for the sailboat to drop anchor.

The couple said they quickly realized they weren't welcome off Cuban shores.

"Two Cuban officers came in a boat and said, 'You have to leave immediately,'" Widrick recounted.

Marty Widrick speaks about being greeted by Cuban officers
"Two Cuban officers came in a boat and said, 'You have to leave immediately,'" Marty Widrick recalled when she and Sven Karrlson arrived in Cuba.

Running low on fuel, Widrick said, they safely made it out of Cuban waters and north to the Bahamas, where they hoped to make repairs finally.

But their bad luck continued.

"When we get into Matthew Town, we end up being greeted by immigration, customs," Widrick told WPTV.

She said customs agents told them they did not have a COVID-19 test and visa.

"We were informed that we were there illegally and we needed to leave," she said.

GALLERY: Couple spent 28 days stranded at sea

So the couple continued on.

Widrick's daughter made plans for them to sail to the Turks and Caicos Islands, where they would be welcomed to stop and make repairs.

But they never made it that far south.

The couple said bad weather impeded their voyage and prevented them from reaching Turks and Caicos.

A broken VHF antenna compounded the couple's bad luck, leaving them with no way of communicating.

On Dec. 22, the U.S. Coast Guard issued an alert the two were missing.

The Coast Guard's notice said the couple departed Matthew Town on Dec. 16.

Coast Guard crews searched more than 58,000 square miles of seas for the couple, an area roughly the size of Georgia.

"The ocean is huge, and it's so hard to know where people are," Karrlson told WPTV.

Sven Karrlson says he and Marty Widrick 'had a lot of, maybe, bad luck'
Sven Karrlson says he and Marty Widrick "had a lot of, maybe, bad luck."

Widrick added the couple "had no idea" the Coast Guard was searching for them.

"I'm thankful that we didn't need, you know, the rescuing," Widrick said, adding that she was grateful for the Coast Guard.

WPTV spoke with Gayle Clark, a longtime friend of Karlsson, while the couple was missing at sea.


Coast Guard searching for missing boaters aboard Palm Beach-based sailboat near The Bahamas

"The boat disappearing 100% like that is very unusual," Clark told WPTV during the interview.

On Christmas Eve, the couple's bad luck continued to worsen.

"We were only 50 miles outside of Fort Lauderdale. We ended up having a waterspout hit the boat," Widrick said. "We couldn't sail. We couldn't use the engine."

Widick wrote about the ordeal in a letter to her daughter. She shared some of the letter with WPTV.

"My mayday went out yesterday over and over for hours," Widrick wrote. "We were concerned what would happen in Bahamas if we ended up on shore again without a visa."

Twenty-eight days after first setting sail, the couple docked again in Florida.

"It felt almost like it was right out a movie," Widrick said.

Karrlson said they "had a lot of, maybe, bad luck."

"You know how you sit and you watch the movies? And everything in the movie goes wrong, and you're sitting there saying, 'There's no way that could happen in real life?'" Widrick recalled. "Well, we were living it."

Marty Widrick likens being stranded at sea to watching an unbelievable movie
"You know how you sit and you watch the movies? And everything in the movie goes wrong, and you're sitting there saying, 'There's no way that could happen in real life?'" Marty Widrick told WPTV. "Well, we were living it."

It was a thrilling journey to the Caribbean, one the couple will remember for a constant stream of unfortunate events and challenges at every turn.

Widrick's letter to her daughter encapsulated the final chapter of this once-in-a-lifetime trip.

"It's amazing the bad luck we've had and run into," Widrick wrote. "I love you baby, Mom."