Maddie barked in annoyance, as another small fishing boat went whizzing by us. She is NOT fond of the loud little motors. To me, it sounds like she is yelling SLOW DOWN!
“Yet another fishing boat in the middle of the channel?” I groused. As a courtesy, we consistently slow to an idle for small boats of all kinds, endeavoring not to wake them. But when the boats elect to fish in the middle of the channel, it’s vexing.
Roughly 400 feet in front of us, the sense of annoyance was replaced with sheer horror as we witnessed the small boat keel over, dumping the fishermen into the water. Holy Shit, they capsized! We could see one man clinging to a cooler, as two more latched on to the overturned boat.
Capt. Rick was already on the radio, “Coast Guard, Coast Guard, man overboard! Three men in the water. NO LIFE JACKETS! Immediately in front of us. We will attempt to rescue them. Our coordinates are …”
“There’s another one!” I shrieked. Four men in the water. Three of them hugging the hull, the fourth was still gripping a cooler to stay afloat. Terrified of the odds, I ripped open a brand-new package of 4 life jackets (a mess I had to repair later) and scurried to the bow. As Capt. Rick eased towards the capsized boat, I threw the life jackets towards the 4 men – with herculean effort. Success.
Ever steady, Capt Rick said, “Put on your headset. You go to the stern, drop the swim ladder, and throw them the life ring when we get close enough.” Copy that.
From the swim platform I yelled – “Please hang on men, don’t panic, we are going to help. Can you swim?”
Only one man said yes! Roughly 100 feet away, bolstered by a life jacket, Alvin swam towards our boat. With a mighty adrenalin rush I helped him climb aboard.
With great haste I rigged the life ring to a floating line, secured the line on a boat cleat, and then told Alvin to throw it to his buddies. The Lifeline is only 70 feet long. There was no time to lose. Alvin threw the perfect toss, then together we pulled in one of his fishing buddies (Charles).
Another perfect toss and we pulled in the remaining two, father and son (Dana and Larry).
Larry Bell and family (son, Dana Gent, upper right)
Capt. Rick reported to the Coast Guard, ALL Four Men were now on board. No-one was injured. Shaken up, we all knew they could have lost their lives.
Apparently, the steering failed as the wheel popped off into the hands of Alvin. Spinning out of control, he was pitched into the water. Moments later the boat overturned, spilling the other three into the salty water.
Larry Bell was lamenting over the mistake of wearing heavy, tightly laced boots on a boat, he was sure they could have been the cause of his death – since he could not untie them.
Gone: fishing gear, phones, wallets, keys, shoes, one sock, and a pair of shorts (thankfully Dana’s briefs stayed intact).
Saved: four precious lives.
Let me take a thankful pause here. These are the boat tracks – and the coordinates of the incident. Capt. Rick remained extremely calm during this ordeal. For the non-boater fans, let me explain. The white section is the channel. You can see the channel is only about 100 feet wide. The dotted line (cookie crumbs) indicates our path. The sideways “v” shape is where we threw the life jackets, the small circle is where we rescued the men. This was ONLY possible because Capt. Rick is such an exceptional navigator. Thanks, Babe. You are amazing.
Time to Exhale
As we pulled up to the dock in Vero Beach, the men climbed out of our boat, thankful to be alive.
Then one of them exclaimed – “Your boat’s name is Exhale! That’s incredible. Because of you, we are all still breathing! We will NEVER forget you.”
Epilogue – A Mother’s Love
We were enjoying dinner with our dear friends in Stuart – Marty & Anders, John & Sue – when Ms. Andrea called. Roughly 24 hours had passed since the rescue. Now, an eternally grateful mother was reaching out. Prior to her call we didn’t know the names of the men we had rescued. And, we did not take a single photo.
Alvin’s mother, Ms. Andrea Woulard, forever touched our hearts with her expression of thanks. She was extremely emotional as she recanted her’s son’s brush with death. She also assured me that he will never again go out on the water without proper life jackets. She’s a strong mother. One look at this beautiful soul and you know, life is good.
Thanks for the Facebook photos Ms. Andrea.
Celebrating Milestones. Birthdays: Steven “with a v” Hunt – October 27; Megan Ginsburg Newton, October 31; Gail Bernstein – November 3 (Go Max, Go!)
Next Stop: Clewiston – reuniting with Lit’l Houlegan.
Boat Safely my friends! Everyday above the water is cherished.