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Rough Passage

Members of a Russian family that has had immigration problems trying to return to Canada say they encountered some of the worst weather they’ve seen in their 15 years at sea, while sailing from Bermuda to the British Virgin Islands.

Vitaly and Marina Bondarenko and their two young boys, Ivan and Vasily, sailed their 36-foot sailboat, Viajero, through 20-foot seas with winds gusting to 50 knots, according to a letter the family wrote to Bermuda’s Royal Gazette newspaper. The family had set sail from Bermuda Jan. 17, headed for the Turks and Caicos Islands, but instead arrived 10 days later in the British Virgin Islands.

“They had extremely rough seas and heavy winds consistently over several days,” says Lee Cohen, the family’s attorney, in an e-mail to Soundings. “The boat was pretty beaten up when they arrived, as were the sailors. They were also exhausted. [They] went a few days without any sleep.”

“We all slept on the floor because it was impossible to stay on the bunks — we fell down,” Marina Bondarenko told the Royal Gazette. “The heeling and rocking was so strong that the life raft, the fenders and life jackets leaning on the door in the aft cabin finally broke the door and the latch.” Unable to cook because of the conditions, the Bondarenkos ate only corned beef and crackers for several days.

The Bondarenkos in December were awarded a one-year temporary residency permit to return to Canada, where they had been living for several months before their visas expired last June. The family was told to leave Bermuda by Jan. 10 but was granted an extension because of storms in the North Atlantic.

In 1991 the Bondarenkos left Russia to sail around the world. Vitaly Bondarenko was arrested in 2003 while refueling in Block Island, R.I., for entering the United States without valid passports or visas. He spent four months in the Bristol County House of Corrections in North Dartmouth, Mass.

In July 2004 the family sailed to Nova Scotia, where Vitaly Bondarenko began working at a foundry and Ivan and Vasily were enrolled in school. The family was told to leave Canada five months later but was allowed to apply for new visas from outside the country. Canadian officials, however, concerned about the family sailing the North Atlantic in winter, allowed the Bondarenkos to stay until June 30, 2005.

After landing in the British Virgin Islands the Bondarenkos made repairs to Viajero and were preparing to set sail for Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.