July 10, 2014

In the Stream


Just another ordinary day on the ocean.

RINGTONE. Check the screen.

It's my good friend Monroe calling from his home in Fort Lauderdale. I knew he was running his Sea Ray up from the Florida Keys, so I'm glad to see he's home and dry.

"Hey, how's it going?"

"I've got to tell you this because I've just got to tell someone."

"What happened? You okay?"

(When people run serious power boats from the Keys up to Lauderdale, it's a full day on the ocean and things can sometimes go wrong, very wrong. His boat seems big at the dock, but take it off shore and towards the Gulf Stream and it quickly becomes very small. The Atlantic is a great reducer.)

"Yeah, sure. Fine. But listen to this."

"Tell me."

"Well, I was trying to get someone to crew with me on the boat, but one person after another flaked out so, in the end, I had to take it myself. It's a full 8 hours cruising on plane once you get away from the Keys and out into the open ocean, and it's not always fun. But I've done it before. You just bring the boat up on plane, punch in the GPS way points and then pretty much monitor the autopilot for eight hours. I usually just put in the ear plugs, sit back and take the ride.

"Anyway, I'm at least four miles off shore along the edge of the Gulf Stream abreast of Miami with an hour left to run when I decide, okay, I'll have one cold beer. So I pop one and take a sip. I turn to my right to put it down and something flickers in the corner of my eye.

"I look again just behind me and about a quarter mile more out to sea and, when a wave falls away, I see a small boat with three people standing in it. And it seems like they are all waving. At me. Now people wave at each other from boat to boat all the time, but these men seem to be unusually enthusiastic."

"I pick up my binoculars and look again. They're fading behind me now, but I manage to get a closer look and, sure enough, there's these three men all standing in this dinky boat and waving. I throttle back to look more closely, and I notice that while they are waving, the boat they are in is getting lower in the water.

"Okay. That's all I need to see. I turn the boat out to sea and come back up on plane and get over there. Sure enough, as I come closer it becomes very clear that the situation they are in is commonly known as 'sinking.' They are sinking fast. And waving faster.

"I don't want to swamp anything so I throttle back. Then I remember I'm wearing ear-plugs. I take them out and a good deal of shouting comes in to accompany the waving."

"I pull up within about thirty yards from them. It's an open boat and they're wearing some cheap Wal-Mart lifejackets; almost kid's life jackets. Keep in mind that we're four long miles off shore, bumping along on the edge of the Gulf Stream, and the current is whipping us along.

"I go to dead idle and sort of drift up on them and, just as I get within ten yards, their boat capsizes, flips them all out into the ocean and slides under. I step to the aft deck, open the door on the deck, put the ladder down and hold out the boat hook. Their boat's a goner, but they spend about sixty seconds in the water, and then they're on my deck, wet but very, very grateful."

"Amazing," I tell him. "Simply amazing."

"God was watching out for these guys. They had no radio. No inflatable. Nothing except some stinky life jackets.

"If the guy I'd lined up to crew hadn't flaked out this morning, I'd have been underway at least an hour earlier and tied up in Lauderdale with a serious cocktail.

"If I hadn't turned to put my beer in the holder at that precise instant, I wouldn't have seen them at all. And they'd have been four miles off shore in the Stream. The current would have taken them north much faster than they could have swum west. If they could have swum four miles in the open ocean to begin with."

"What happened after?"

"I got on the radio and called the Coat Guard. They had me hold station and sent a cutter out. They took the guys off and took them back to shore in Miami. I fired up the engines and came home. My dog was upset though. Ten hours without a chance to pee."

"Monroe, you just saved three lives," I said.

He paused. "Yes," he said, "I guess you could say I probably did. Even though I had to do the run solo, I guess you could say it was a good day on the ocean after all."

The name of my friend's boat?

"Safety Meeting"


Posted by Vanderleun at July 10, 2014 1:59 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

I know you are not very surprised. But was he?

Posted by: jamzw at January 11, 2009 5:35 PM

Florida is the greatest, and your pal is, too.

Posted by: dr kill at January 11, 2009 7:43 PM

This is an amazing story. Your site is top shelf. Thanks for that. Very cool. Hope you won some kind of 'Blog Award', or whatever Bloggers seem to be blogging about nowadays. You surely deserve it.

Posted by: Grateful Boogliodemus at January 11, 2009 7:55 PM

Was Monroe ever bit by a dead bee, ala 'To Have and Have Not'?

Posted by: Carl H at January 11, 2009 8:21 PM

It's amazing, the things that seem so insignificant until suddenly, they're not.

Posted by: Julie at January 11, 2009 9:12 PM

Wow, an amazing story of in-the-nick-of-time-heroism, sharp eyes, split seconds, and prayers being answered out in the open ocean. I'm surprised, though, how hard it is to get someone to crew. I guess that's how it is in Florida, maybe, when going out on a boat may be relatively commonplace. I kept thinking, I would have loved to have gone with him!

Beautiful boat, by the way.

Posted by: Tom Osborne at January 11, 2009 11:50 PM

If the people had been lost at sea, some would argue that the tragedy proves God does not exist. Yet, amazing grace, they "once were lost and now are found," so surely that proves that God does exist. Right?

... Sound of crickets chirping.

(I don't mean you, Gerard.)

Posted by: Donanld Sensing at January 12, 2009 6:52 AM

Get outta here! That's a great yarn.

Now I want to know who those guys were and what they thought they were doing out there.

Posted by: at January 12, 2009 11:33 AM

That's an incredible story. Of course, at the end I was hoping they would shout "America! Cuba Libre!"

Posted by: Velociman at January 12, 2009 6:22 PM

Bravo Zulu to your friend.

Mikey NTH, USCG Aux.

Posted by: Mikey NTH at January 13, 2009 2:58 PM

As we say in AA....another Godincidence.

Thanks, Gerard.

Posted by: Maggie45 at January 14, 2009 1:58 PM

Wasn't that from a Travis McGee story?

Posted by: Anon at January 14, 2009 6:22 PM

Travis McGee. He spun a good tale and made his characters believable and interesting--"The Busted Flush" might be as good a boat name as I've ever heard. And this story does ring a bell; I have read something either very much like it, or it, before.

Posted by: Dan Patterson at January 16, 2009 5:59 AM


"McGee" was the character...the author was John D. McDonald.

"Slip F-18, Bahia Mar, Ft. Lauderdale" sounds like a pretty good address right now. This afternoon was the first time in four days that we creeped above zero here in Minnesnowta.

Posted by: Blackwing1 at January 16, 2009 1:13 PM

Blackwing1: Don't jump to conclusions. The South, from what I hear, is currently in the middle of a vicious cold snap -- it's actually warmer in Alaska than it is in Alabama right now.

Posted by: Jake Was Here at January 17, 2009 2:43 PM

Blackwing1: I knew that...really...I mean it.

Posted by: Dan Patterson at January 19, 2009 4:15 AM

Wowzer! I think the moral of the story is you should give in to the temptation if you want a beer.

Seriously though, your friend is the arch-typical "common hero". Bravo.

Posted by: Tank Slapper at October 16, 2010 8:18 AM

With all respect, Tank Slapper, please do not mis-use the word "hero". Monroe took no extraordinary risks or efforts to do what he did. He was serious, paying attention to what he saw, and did the right thing promptly. Monroe is not a hero, but he's something almost as good -- he's a man.

Posted by: Daniel K Day at October 16, 2010 11:03 AM

John D. MacDonald wrote a non-Travis McGee novel, THE LAST ONE LEFT, which opens with a scene very much like this one. I suppose in the maritime culture of the Florida coast, incidents like this are fairly common, although Monroe's luck and presence of mind certainly isn't.

Posted by: Aquila at October 16, 2010 2:06 PM

I liked this story the last time you posted it too.

Posted by: Dennis at October 16, 2010 11:54 PM

Inspiring story.

p.s. He looks very fair skinned. Please remind your friend he needs to wear a little sun screen!

Posted by: mken at October 17, 2010 6:28 AM

Great story five years on.

Yes indeed, Bravo Zulu.

If Monroe ever needs some crew, give him my email address, please.

I'd be an honor.

Posted by: Sandy Daze at July 10, 2014 2:04 PM

I've done that run several times, but on the other side of the state, in the gulf. The water is a little calmer but it still beats you to death. When we hit the dock I thought all my guts were jumbled so it took about 14 Stella Artois's to get them back in order. The last run was in a 26' Donzi with (2) Chevy 350's and we skimmed the whitecaps at about 70mph the whole way with Dark Side of the Moon playing at 250 watts. Just under 5 hours from Sugarloaf Key to Useppa Island.

Posted by: ghostsniper at July 10, 2014 2:28 PM

That's my kind of boat trip sniper.

Posted by: vanderleun at July 10, 2014 3:00 PM

We'll just float along here at the dock, thank you. When the winds whip up to stead 35knts and there's 2-3 ft rollers in the river, we might as well be on a boat run on the ocean. After 24-48 hours on the boat in winds like that, only rum will do.

We've been living aboard for a year, and in that time they've lost 3 people right here at the marina. They drove their car off the road and into the pluff mud at high tide. Lost a dock hand the year before. The water... she doesn't give up before you do.

Posted by: Joan of Argghh! at July 10, 2014 4:07 PM

Thanks for AMERICAN DIGEST and for your constant attention to the "doings" of manking, Gerard .. I've admired your presence for a long time but this is the first time of communicating with you .. I have "lifted" topics from your page quite a few times with full attribution of course and I give you here the marvelous salvation of a regular day on the ocean ... Thanks again and keep us all honest!! Blessings to you and yours ... ;-)

Posted by: Dennis G. Hurst at July 13, 2014 6:34 AM

Great story--very inspiring. But I'm confused.

He's going from the Keys to Lauderdale so he's heading north. He turns "...to my right to put [my beer] down" and sees the sinking boat--east of his location. In fact, he says he turns his boat "out to sea" to check out the situation--to the east.

But later he says that the Stream "...would have taken them north much faster than they could have swum east."

Shouldn't that be "swum west?" Or am I missing something?

Posted by: Snackeater at July 19, 2014 8:05 AM

My mistake. They would have swum west. Fixed. Thank you.

Posted by: Van der Leun at July 19, 2014 9:12 AM