You May Get
HITS THE FAN
By 7: 15 a.m., the seas
hadn’t flattened out at all,
and progress was slow. Standing
at the center console, George and I discussed turning back, but agreed to give it a little longer. At the speed we were going, it really wasn’t that bad. As I started
to head for my seat, I saw a large wave at the bow of the boat, and
turned to keep my face from being sprayed with seawater. There was
a slow jolt and a lifting sensation, followed by the force of rushing
water that took my legs out from under me. The water was a shock,
but the silence of the motors as I struggled to my feet was an even
Everyone was stunned and tried to adjust to the situation. Tom
stood next to me trying to start the engines. I tried bailing water
with a five-gallon bucket, and thought I was doing well, until the
next wave came over the transom, knocking me down. It was hope-
less. Tom was already issuing a mayday, and I yelled our position to
him with my eyes glued to the instruments. Water rushed in, and I
felt my feet leave the deck as the boat started to sink from under us.
Tom dropped the mike and headed for the bow where George, Art,
and Joe were already ripping cushions off and throwing anything that
would float into the water to create a debris slick. I couldn’t believe
it. The boat was sinking! As we strapped on life jackets, George
yelled, “Did we get the mayday out? Did the Coast Guard receive it?”
“Yeah, I think so,” I yelled back. “I think I heard a response.”
“Who’s got the time?” Art called.
“Seven-thirty,” Joe answered. “Time to get out of the boat!” And
he literally slipped into the water. The boat was sinking, stern first.
Five minutes after the first wave hit, it had disappeared.
“PLEASE, LET US GET RESCUED SOON”
ing 100 pounds of
butterfish from the
deck fish box. No one
mentioned sharks, but all
I had to do was look down at
my feet, watching the sun’s rays disappear into the blue darkness of the ocean,
and panic crept in. At 10: 15 a.m., we suddenly spotted
our first sign of hope, a Coast Guard helicopter on the horizon. We
loaded the flare gun and waited for the right moment to shoot it off.
We fired the first flare then started yelling and waving our arms as
the helicopter flew so close we could see the identification numbers
on its side. With a dull “pop,” we sent our second flare screaming
up over our heads. After about 30 seconds, we all started yelling,
“Shoot another flare! Hurry, they missed it!” Within seconds, the
third and last flare popped off. The helicopter just continued past us.
Our spirits were low, but at least we knew they were looking for us.
We decided to start swimming back, hoping a sportfishing boat
would spot us, but after swimming for two hours, we realized we
were getting separated. Several times, we stopped and waited for the
waves to lift us up to locate each other. At some point, we all pulled
together to make sure everyone was OK. Joe, who was the oldest,
was losing his color. “I’m sorry, guys, I can’t make it,” he said, finally.
“Go on without me, and just send help back for me.” I could see
that even if we stopped and rested awhile, he probably wouldn’t be
able to regain his strength enough to keep up with us. I decided to
stay back with Joe.
CAN THINGS GET ANY WORSE?
About 1 p.m., just as the others were about to swim on, the Coast
Guard helicopter returned. We could barely see it on the horizon, but
it lifted our spirits immensely. Joe and I swam slowly, and the others
were soon out of sight. By 2 p.m., the seas had flattened out a little.
It was hard to believe we’d been in the water so long. My constant
prayer was, “Please, no sharks.”