The rescue.
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Well folks, we officially have our first crazy boat story. I promised that I would share the good, bad and ugly, so here we go.

Our captain turned out to be a bit of a flake.  He was a smart guy in some respects, clearly knew mechanics and was very good at handling the boat, but problem was, his judgement was severely lacking.  Obviously, I am not going to say who the captain was, but I know that he reads this blog occasionally.  So captain, if you read this, and I hope that you do, there are things here that I wanted to say to you, but didn’t get the chance as I did not want to fume the situation the day of your departure, as my kids were aboard.

In hindsight, and it’s always in hindsight, as hindsight is 20/20, there were a few red flags that I missed or ignored.  I had poor judgement in choosing a captain and I have learned a lesson.  I will never again hire a captain that is not by way of someone that I know and trust.  I don’t care how stellar the references or how highly they come recommended.  Now, on to the incident.

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We anchored at Dog Island for the night.  Dog Island is across the Bay from Carrabelle.  It was our last stop before heading across the Gulf.  As we shut down the engines and settled in to our beautiful surroundings our captain immediately wanted to pull the dingy down and head to the island.  Problem was, we were too tired.  After all, I had been running the boat for 8-10 hours a day for three days straight. Even when my 13 old, Aiden, was at the helm, I wasn’t really resting as I had to keep an eye on what he was doing.  My Mom and I decided that it was best not to pull the dingy down that evening, but rather we could blow up the tubes, tie them to the swim platform and the kids could swim right at the boat.  Which they did and had a great time.  However, our captain, decided that he was going to swim to the island and suggested that my kids do the same.  They begged and pleaded, but there was no way in hell I was about to let them swim to shore.  Not only was I concerned about the current, but I was worried that they could potentially get half way across, realize that it was farther than expected and freak out, despite having a life jacket on.  So, off went our captain to shore, alone; life jacket strapped, and cell phone double bagged waiving above his head as he swam with one arm.

A couple of hours passed and I glanced over the bow to see that our captain had begun his return to the boat.  10 minutes passed and he was still out there.  I kept my eye on him.  20 minutes later and I began to wonder what the heck was taking so long.  By this time, my Mom was sitting on the foredeck closely monitoring his progress, or there lack of, while I was closely monitoring my kids. Moments later, she informed me that our captain was unable to make it back to the boat, just as he called out for us to go get him.  I looked over and noticed that he was much, much farther away from the boat.  He was drifting into the bay, quickly.  His plastic bag cell phone still waiving in the air.  Still attempting to swim with one arm.  We all wondered why he wouldn’t forgo the phone and use both arms, but at this point he was caught in the current, and was drifting fast.  At this moment we realized the seriousness of the situation and everyone went into a mild panic.  I had to make a decision whether to fetch him with the dinghy, or the boat.  The problem with the dingy was that we had only taken it down with the davit twice, both times our captain assisted.  The davit arm is very stiff from years of sitting and lack of use.  We were planning to add ropes and possibly grease it up at some point. I wasn’t sure if I would have the strength to swing it out and get the boat in the water.  The problem with taking the big boat was that I would have to get the anchor in, which, again, I hadn’t done alone yet and pulling up anchor can take a few minutes when its buried in sand.  We didn’t have a lot of time.  Also, I had heard that there is a proper procedure to rescuing someone during a man overboard situation to lesson the risk of running them over with the boat.  I knew that my adrenaline was pumping as I watched our captain being quickly swept away.  The risk of the anchor taking to long to pull in coupled with not knowing the correct procedure when attempting to move the boat to him, was too great.  I decided to take my chances with the dingy.  I immediately rounded up my kids to help me pull it down.  Ronan came up on the bridge to help me swing the arm out and the others stayed below guiding the boat into the water.  It was a success.  Ronan and I jumped in and I turned the key to start the engine.  It started briefly, then died.  I tried again, and it died again.  Meanwhile, our captain was drifting farther and farther away.  I was panicking.  Thoughts of a Coast Guard rescue began to dance in my head.  I tried starting the engine one last time.  It started, but was just barely running.  As we headed toward the drifting man, who had given up on fighting the current, I was preparing Ronan for the moment when the motor dies.  By the way it sounded and was behaving, I was completely convinced that it would die at any moment.  We were barely moving.  A few minutes later, we finally made it to our captain, as we were pushed by the current.  He was unable to pull himself into the dingy, maybe because of the exhaustion from swimming, not sure.  He was too big and heavy for Ronan and I to pull in.  He hung off the back as we attempted to tow him back to the boat.  Now we were moving against the current.  The dinghy, with its failing motor was not making progress at all.  Ronan picked up a paddle that was at the bottom of the boat and began paddling back.  Between the putt, putt of the engine and Ronan’s paddling we began moving, but very very slowly.  I was unable to help paddle because when I let go of the wheel we began to drift in the wrong direction.  It took a while, but thankfully, Ronan was able to get us back to the boat.

We were never in any real danger, but the possibility of drifting farther into the bay and more importantly into a channel as sundown approached was a scary thought, and let’s face it I really wasn’t keen on having to call the Coast Guard at day 5 of my journey and only having owned my boat for a few weeks.  That would have been as my kids say a real “FAIL”.  Needless to say, I was completely pissed at our captain.  His poor judgement, not only caused this incident, but could have caused worse.

That night was a real eye opener.  We also discovered that same night that our Gulf Crossing, that was scheduled to begin at 5am the next morning was a 32 hour journey at sea to Fort Meyers, when we had been told it was 8-10 hours.  Clearwater could be closer at 14 hours, but our captain never mentioned that until all came to a head.  That was okay.  My Mom and I had a plan.  We explained to our captain that we had to stop in Carrabelle the next morning to grab medication before our crossing.  We made nice, as if all would go as planned after the pit-stop.  I did not want to dump him at anchor that night as my kids had had enough drama for one day with having to rescue his sorry as$.

The next morning, we headed to Carrabelle.  As we filled our fuel tanks the guys at the dock tried to convince our captain that his plan to depart at 1am that night was a poor plan because a storm was coming.  He was too pig headed to listen and insisted that our boat could handle it.  We didn’t argue with him, we went ahead and let him dock the boat.  As soon as we were safe at the dock in Carrabelle, we asked him to step outside. We told him that he was no longer needed.  I had a bunch of stuff on my chest, but restrained as I did not want to start an argument and upset my kids.  But, I got a bit nervous when he began to waive his finger at my Mom and she stepped up and headed toward him.  He’s lucky that Southie girl didn’t push him over the side-rail.  He agreed to pack his stuff and I let it go.

So, “captain”, here are the things that I didn’t get to say to you.

You can’t pull kids in a raft off the back of a 60′ motoryacht.  Exhaust comes out the rear of the boat, and, it’s just plain unsafe.  Glad I didn’t listen to you on that one.  When you swim to land, check your current.  You shouldn’t have to rely on a newbie boater and a bunch of kids to rescue you.  When you plan to make a Gulf Crossing you should be honest about the time involved.  Who did you think would run the boat, including overnight for 32 hours?  My 13 year old? Reckless! When you have a kid at the helm, who is still learning on his first day of driving a big as$ boat, and he looses his steering when under a bridge in a no wake zone, and is heading to crash into that bridge, it is time to take control of the boat.  Don’t wait until his Mom has to run up to the bridge and throw the boat into reverse. Sorry, you were dead wrong on that one.  It’s his first day learning, he might not “figure it out” and repeating a command, “astearn on the port” won’t help when he hasn’t mastered the words port or astearn yet.  Reckless!   Before you do a long crossing, such as the Gulf, make sure that all of your navigation lights are in working order.  You are quick to recite that “It is illegal to operate at night in the United States without working navigation lights”.  Why the hell were you going to take us across without that white light?  Plain stupid!!!  And…It’s a good idea to top up your fuel and water.  And…don’t lie to your crew.  I’m glad that you left when you did.  Your judgement is pathetic and dangerously stupid.  Reckless!

Had to get that off my chest.  On a positive note.  I am extremely proud of my kids for stepping up to the plate.  I couldn’t have gotten him back to the boat without all of their help.  Especially Ronan who paddled us back to the boat.  They are a strong resilient bunch.  They always come through and help when the time is needed.  Also, Aiden and I had a lot of practice running the boat.  I’m sure that had I been with someone else I would not have gotten the practice that I did.  Still need to learn docking, but have a very good handle on steering in a short amount of time.

 

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Just as a side note, it was nice to be able to say to Aiden, who couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t let them swim to land, and who routinely questions my parenting and decisions as most teens do at some point.  “You see why I say what I say?  You see now why I told you guys, “NO?”  You would have all been floating around out there.”  The look on his face as he nodded in agreement and finally understand me, for that brief moment.  And I could tell that this was the one time that he was grateful for me being protective.  That moment was priceless.

 

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Comments

The rescue. — 22 Comments

  1. I am in awe of you and your family! Way togo! Stick to your instincts and you will all do amazingly!!

  2. Thanks for the vicarious adventure. Having reached my 70’s I often regret simply not setting sail. If you hit Nj, give me a shout. My wife and I would enjoy setting foot on your new home.

  3. An excellent adventure. Think your decision about the captain was quite wise. Relax and breathe, you’ll do fine.

  4. We that you for taking the time to write about your journey with 5 kids and a Mother. Enjoying your writing. What a captain. We think he saw Captain Ron too many times but he does(did not have the experience. Maybe you should have just pushed him overboard and powered off.

    • I haven’t seen Captain Ron yet, but I need to. Would have loved to see him hit the water, and thought for a minute I might have to hold my Mom back…LOL

  5. Carabelle to Clearwater is the way to go.. This time of year you have lots of daylight, but it’s still about 170 miles.. You can cruise at about 16mph on your boat, but it’s gonna melt your credit card.. That said, it’s money well spent. I left at 5:00 am and was tied up at 19:00. Be careful going into Clearwater. The charts show 2 approaches to the city marina…take the ICW route. When I travel, I rarely anchor out. I feel more secure at a dock, and I don’t have to run my generator. Last time I made the trip across. I stayed at Clearwater Municipal, then Venice, then Rose Marina on Marco Island, Marathon, then Miami…tied to a dock every night, and only ran daylight hours. I’m told that Ochachobee has good water now, so Clearwater, to Ft Myers, to Port St Lucie is a shorter viable option. Good Luck with the rest of your trip.

    • Paul your spot on!!!

      We briefly ran aground on the wrong channel heading into City marina, but quickly reversed and went around. I have also learned that I am not a fan of anchoring. I would much rather be at the dock were my kids can get off the boat and we can take a walk. It’s also nice to get a break from the noisy generator. We did travel through Okeechobbe, that trip will be in my next post. Stay tuned… 🙂

  6. I now have my kids in on reading your posts and we are trying to figure out your route. Where are you headed? You seem so deep into the gulf of mexico we can’t figure it out!

    • Hey Sylvie,
      The internet connection at my current marina can only be used in the lounge as the signal is very weak. I would have liked to have been more timely with the updates as I like the blog in real time, but I have been battling the wifi at this location. The next upcoming posts will talk about our crossing the Gulf from Carabelle to Clearwater, then traveling through Lake Okeechobee. We are now in Aventura, just outside of Miami.

  7. We learn as we go. You are learning fast. Enjoy and keep me informed. I envy your journey

  8. I agree with your assessment of your captains judgement and his lack there of in the situations you describe, other than perhaps the kids in the tubes. Diesel exhaust is in some ways “cleaner” than the exhaust from a gas powered boat. Such as not full of CO like the exhaust of a gas engine. So you can most certainly pull kids safely in a tube behind a 60′ boat. Although picking them up if they fall out of the tube may be a bit trickier in a boat that size. So tubing with kids would be better off done with your tender.

    Swimming away from the boat using one arm and not understanding the current that might be involved, while knowing the other people on board the boat are not qualified to come to your aid if something goes wrong, is beyond stupid.

    You also need to start to learn to do your own course plotting. Not only to just learn how to do it for your own sake and future travels but to double check your captains figures.

    What speed are you planning to cruise at when you cross and head to Ft. Myers?

    Have you found a replacement for him yet?

    • Hey Bill,
      Yes, I did end up with a new captain. A very good one. To be honest with you, I could have calculated the time to Fort Meyers myself, but when he told me the time, I didn’t bother as I figured that he knew what he was doing and there was no need. I also never figured that he would lie to me about it. I still have faith that most captains probably would not be that foolish or deceitful, but after my experience I know that you never know, so in the future I will be watching very carefully what they do. I am the only one who will truly watch out for the safety of my family. The old captain didn’t know how to use the chartplotter, or at least if he did, he fooled me. He used an app on his phone to plot the course, but then wouldn’t show me how he did it. My knew captain did show me how to plot a course on my chartplotter, I will be practicing that more and more. I try and keep the speed between 8.5-10 knots, so the fuel bill won’t slaughter me 🙂

  9. Just read about firing the Captain. I strongly recommend that you have a (free) Coast Guard Auxiliary inspection of your vessel. Basic but significant issues like non-working navigation lights will be discovered and you can easily fix them.

    Treat your Captain as a teacher and a crew member, not as “THE CAPTAIN.” By that I mean you, as the owner and intended long-term operator, should be learning how to operate the boat before going out. For example if I were you I would spend a day practicing docking skills with your crew before leaving port again. You and your oldest 2 kids should be comfortable docking the boat from the helm. The youngest should know how to step off the boat safely and secure a line to a cleat. Have them practice lassoing a dock cleat from the boat.

    I have been boating in salt water for about four years now (Pacific NorthWest) and I learned so much the first year. I admire your guts but I am concerned about your general lack of knowledge regarding boating, the significant risks involved, and learning and testing yourself and your crew ahead of time.

    Going through a lock is not the right time to teach your kids how to cleat and hold a line. Going to rescue a swimmer is not the time to figure out how to lower your dinghy and find out you have motor issues. Imagine if you were in the ocean, fifteen knot winds, a storm is coming and a sea cock fails and your boat starts sinking. Do you trust your ability to get the dinghy in the water, your crew on it, and safely motor the dinghy away?

    This is meant as constructive criticism. Please don’t dismiss it. Do you have an MMSI number? Is it programmed into your VHF radios? Is the DSC function working on all of your VHF radios? Does everyone on board know how to use the VHF to make a Mayday call and read off their lat and long coordinates from your GPS and/or chartplotter? If you answered any of these questions in the negative you need to take a day and get these emergency systems set up, tested, and working.

    When you’re at the dock, give a cold beverage to a captain from another boat and ask to hear some of their boating stories. You and your kids will learn a lot! And it is fun, by the way. Please believe me, lots of people with more experience than you have lost their boats or worse by getting themselves into the deep end and not knowing how to get out.

    If your kids have smart phones or tablets, download a free GPS app and have them call out coordinates to you from time to time. Download the free ship finder app and have them monitor big boat traffic. Download a boating weather app and have the family review three-day forecasts and then plot your course together.

    Your kids are going to learn incredibly valuable life skills in this adventure. One huge skill is to learn to be prepared in advance. Good luck!

    • Rob, that’s solid advice and I would never dismiss solid advice. Your right I do have plenty to learn. I have a MMSI number, but have not yet programmed it into my VHF. I will work on that in the next few days while we are at the dock. Your right, it’s very important and I should bring that to the top of my list. I do have lots to learn and lots to get done. I’m working on things little by little every day. Thanks for your input.