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In the Stream

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 powerboats 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 offshore 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 waypoints and then pretty much monitor the autopilot for eight hours. I usually just put in the earplugs, sit back and take the ride.

“Anyway, I’m at least four miles offshore 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 earplugs. 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 offshore, 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’d 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 offshore 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”

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Casey Klahn March 10, 2018, 9:21 AM

    Good man.

  • Richard March 10, 2018, 9:44 AM

    That’s a John Newland One Step Beyond kind of story if ever I’ve heard one. At times, we really do live on the razor’s edge.

  • ghostsniper March 10, 2018, 10:01 AM

    I don’t know about that sitting a beer in a holder business in a boat at full throttle.
    I’ve been on blue water hundreds of times and in boats larger than that and you still can’t sit a carbonated drink down. Most boats with drink holders have the swivel kind, which is fine for keeping the thing vertical, but that won’t prevent a carbonated beverage from doing what it does anytime it is shaken. Maybe he was sitting his empty container into the holder and decided he didn’t want another right away when he caught that glimpse.

  • Mike G. March 10, 2018, 11:00 AM

    At GAS, after the beverage is opened, the shaking doesn’t bother the contents. Now on the other hand, you do lose some liquid from it spurting out of the container Everytime you hit a wave…or bump on the cart path if you’re playing golf.

  • Sam L. March 10, 2018, 1:04 PM

    Another re-run story, to be appreciated and admired one more time.

  • Vermont Woodchuck March 11, 2018, 8:49 AM

    In a situation like that, the best thing you can do is take a deep breath, sink to the bottom and run like hell for shore. All those waves are going to beat the hell out of you and probably either drift you to England or Africa.

  • ghostsniper March 11, 2018, 11:34 AM

    “…three men all standing in this dinky boat…”
    See it? Dinky boat. These weren’t experienced boaters.
    See the boat in the pic? That’s gotta be close to 40′.
    Who usually owns a 40′ boat?
    Right. An experienced boater.

    You fill the drink cooler 1/4 full of water first then you dump in the ice, then the drinking materials.
    Point is that you’re in a constantly moving environment, even when sitting still, and regardless of what Mike G said, if a carbonated drink is sloshed around it will cause a mess and the water in the cooler acts like a shock absorber to lessen that problem.

  • Mike Austin December 13, 2021, 8:45 AM

    At the moment when they were rescued, those three men were the luckiest—or perhaps the most blessed—people on the face of the earth. Their Guardian Angels worked overtime on that one. It would be interesting to get—and here I am reverting to my inner Paul Harvey—“the rest of the story”. What happened to those three? Were they rescued for some reason known only to God?

    There are no accidents.

    • Rob De Witt December 13, 2021, 10:06 AM

      Thanks, Mike. There are times I need reminding of that.

  • Dirk December 13, 2021, 12:39 PM

    Did the right thing, for all the right reasons.

    Late 70s, I attended a school in SanDiego, Dwest, actually DeepWater survival, for aircrews. Ending exercise is your thrown from a speeding helo, into the pacific. Which is flat cold, you your swim buddy are tasked with making it back to shore.

    Like 20 miles,, I honestly don’t remember, but along ways. The movie Jaws had just come out, and that dam music was stuck in my head all the way in. Point being,,, open oceans a lonely place to be. When your tired, float face in the water using the snorkel, or rolling your head to one side.

    The combat swim systems actually very effective for using less energy and covering more distance. Even today I find myself resorting back to that “ Pull” style of swimming.

    Rob, did the boat go to the bottom, or did the tip stay just above the surface?


    • Soviet of Washington December 13, 2021, 4:29 PM

      OT, but since Dirk mentioned 1975, San Diego and Jaws…

      In summer of 1975, I was learning to scull out of the old San Diego Rowing Club (where Joe’s Crab Shack is today) under the tutelage of the late Kearney Johnston (see https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/1975/may/08/cover-the-poor-mans-country-club/) after rowing [sweep] at college my frosh year. We had a motley crew of mostly college types that would meet at 7am and row across the harbor and around to Glorietta Bay by the Hotel Del Coronado, do some sprints, then row back to the club. Must have been towards the end of summer, as I’d graduated from the ‘skeeter boats’ (i.e. Wherries) to the more sleek (and tippy) recreational shells.

      This day, I’d gotten separated from the group for some reason and was rowing by myself along the Coronado shore just south of the bridge when I see this gray flash out of the corner of my eye a few feet off my port oar. I turned slightly to check it out and saw a second flash, this time with a 12″ high gray dorsal fin attached. Did I mention this was 1975, the summer of Jaws? Truly a “first you say it, then you do it moment.” To my credit, I managed to keep the boat upright and make it around to the Bay with my escort alongside. Turns out they train dolphins for security work (among other things) at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado just south of Glorietta Bay (they do BUD/S training there too), and a couple of the dolphins had gotten loose and were looking to play. The Navy corralled them shortly thereafter and we had no further sightings. But I don’t think I was completely comfortable on that course for the rest of the summer.

      • Dirk December 13, 2021, 8:06 PM

        Soviet, a fun story. Harbor security’s taken very seriously. In Nam,,,,,dolphins with air compressed needles would stick the long needle into an enemy combatant and inflate them. Special Warfare had a crud IFF system, was a cricket device, similar to what the troops signalled with in hedge row country France in WWII after the invasion.

        I’m told the dolphin was trained to give the swimmer a friendly bump, and wait for a response, if no clicks were detected, in a pre programmed series, the dolphin closed for the kill.

        What a shitty way to die.

        These days their using walruses, and seals, transporting em in C130s, in large rubber swimming pools. The handlers usually ex SEALS or EOD, tell me they stink badly.

        Years ago, I was told a story by “ Them”. At one point the Navy used Bulga ?whales. The dive master sent the white whale out on a harbor mission, training. The white whale came back and rang the bell. The dive master knew there was nobody in the water,,,,, so no special treat of a fish.

        The bulga whale got pissed, took off, about thirty minutes later it rings the bell again. The dive master turns his back on the whale. The whale drops below the surface, and returns with a fucking scuba diver in its mouth.

        Turns out it was a Philipino diving Illegally tank diving for abalone secretly, and illegally. If I hadn’t seen the pics I would have laughed it off. Around that time the Navy got away from using the wLittle whales, other sea animAl’s are far better suited for the harbor security gig.


  • Glenn Gallup December 13, 2021, 1:15 PM

    I don’t know how many times I’ve used this story to illustrate the

    • Anonymous December 13, 2021, 1:17 PM

      If i hadn’t principle.

      • jefferson101 December 13, 2021, 1:35 PM

        You got to have principles. I don’t care if they were smuggling Cocaine, or whatever…. I could not leave people to drown if I could rescue them safely.
        OTOH, I would have been armed heavily until the time they got off my boat. Idiot fishermen, dope smugglers, jiahdis? I’ll rescue them, but I’m going to be way careful of them until they are no longer my problem.

  • gwbnyc December 13, 2021, 1:36 PM

    A friend had a powerboat built in the Caribbean years ago for his charter business. At sea it began to take water, worsening. He had clients aboard, and worked steadily for hours, past exhaustion, dedicated to slow the inevitable sinking. With the gunwales nearing the ocean’s surface they were spotted and picked up.

    He told me had he not had passengers his fatique would have had him quit at some point and just gone down with her.

  • Kerry McGauran December 13, 2021, 4:58 PM

    Fabulous outcome.

    Every night for the rest of their lives, whether they want to or not, those men will see your friend’s face before they fall asleep and wish him well across the silent miles.

  • Anonymous December 15, 2021, 11:03 AM

    One day, not too long from now, your friend will step out of his house, find his car & boat washed & waxed, and his yard completely re-landscaped in St. Augustine and tropical plants.