A Scary Tale

A Scary Tale

27 July 2002

This past Saturday was a scary day, for I went fishing with a friend in my little aluminum tin can, a 16-foot (4.9 m) Crestliner JRMV 1648, powered by my classic British Seagull outboard motor.  As usual and expected, no fish.  We were in very deep open Caribbean Sea waters, outside of the Bay of Salinas, in the southwestern shore of the Dominican Republic, way beyond the designed capabilities of the boat, but doing well.  My pal, an experienced skin diver and judo expert, was already seasick, after eating something that did not agree to his stomach.  Then, an unexpected, and most severe, gust of wind went through all the area, raising the waves to the point of nearly capsizing the boat.  Actually, there was a moment when I thought that the wind would lift out of the ocean and overturn the boat, which I think did not occur because of all the added weight of the water already inside the boat.

Within a couple of minutes or less after this gust of wind started, we were half-full of water, and the engine–a 1968 vintage British Seagull 5 HP outboard–stopped because water grounded the spark plug, and my efforts to get help via my hand-held marine radio got no reply.  Efforts to hail the Dominican Navy nearby naval base by the radio emergency channel yielded no response.   That is when I realized–fully–that we were on our own.  Actually, before the engine stopped I could not do any steering with it, as the wind and the current were so strong that we were at the mercy–or wrath–of the waves.  My pal was very seasick and was of no help.  Actually, I think that he was ready to “surrender his papers“, for he afterwards told me that he then felt so lousy that drowning felt like a welcomed alternative to the way he was feeling….

The wind subsided as quickly as it came, and the waves gradually stopped coming inside the boat.  I decided to bail out as much water as I could (with a 16 oz/475 ml styrofoam cup, the only bailer available–of course, because of this experience, I later on installed two heavy-duty battery-powered automatic pumps!), to improve our floatability and safety.  There was so much water in the boat that there were only about 6 inches (15 cm) of gunwale that were not submerged!  Actually, the effort to bail all that water with a cup made me throw up, but no rest was possible.

My friend sort of woke up when he started feeling the hardness of the bottom of the boat, as he had been suspended in part by the water inside.  After I got most of the water out, I got to work on the engine and eventually got it going, but only after quite a bit of work.  I even had to put some gas inside the cylinder chamber, as I think some water got inside the carburetor.  Of course, I had some extra spark plugs, and had to replace them twice, as the water inside the motor quickly dirtied them.

Eventually, the motor ran, sputtering for a minute or so, and then flawlessly, as usual.

We had been thrown out to sea some 3-5 miles (5-8 Km). Luckily, the deep blue waters were quite navigable, with 2-4 feet (0.6-1.2 m) waves, and we were able to make it to shore.  However, upon entering the bay again, the waves were about 4-6 feet (1.2-1.8 m) high, very much the extreme limit of the boat, but with some skill and prudence, we were able to make it safely back to port.  Later on, after we arrived, an onlooker at the beach told us that he didn’t think we were going to make it in safety to the beach.  It was rough, especially when we had to refuel the engine as we were entering the bay, making us be at the mercy of the waves while we refueled.  But all is well if it ends well!

This was the first and, hopefully, the last time in some 40 years of going to sea that I felt that I was nearly losing a boat from under my feet.  My thought was that I was going to lose the boat, and that somehow I would have to return swimming, but when I saw all we had to travel to get back to shore, the thought dawned on me that I may not have had the energy to have made it back swimming, as the shore was too far away.  At that time, it was also clear to me that my friend would have lost his life at sea if we had gone under.

Certainly, an event to be written in the Book of Experiences….



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