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The Coast Guard is my Savior
Richard Londeree, Owner Tampa Bay Saltwater

I have been collecting marine life in the Keys since 1973. Wednesday began as most every other day that I am working in the Keys.

I was up at 4am, hooked up the boat and trailer and was off to Miami to pick up a load of rock for use as seed material on our Federally Permitted Aquaculture site for live rock. I put 2780 pounds of rock on the boat, trailed it back to Plantation Key, launched the boat and proceeded out to our aquaculture site on the reef. It was a beautiful day, calm seas and bright skies.

A quick 20 minute ride to the reef, anchored up and began deploying the rock. After making a dive to arrange the rock on the bottom, and observing the myriad amounts of marine life which now inhabit our new reef, I decided to head offshore to go dolphin fishing as I had caught a 45 pound bull and lots of schoolies the previous few days.

Well as everyone knows the fish are way offshore 18-25 miles, but it was a nice day and I was out 22.5 miles when I began trolling. I put the baits over the side and started up the weed line. When I turned around to see how the ballyhoo were running I noticed my rear deck plate awash. I thought this was very strange as I have 2 bilge pumps, one automatic, one manual. I stopped the boat and pulled the hatch. Water was coming in like a geyser. A bit alarmed I turned on my manual bilge pump, hoping to keep up with the water. Well I soon realized I was loosing ground as soon the water was up to my batteries.

I grabbed a 5 gallon bucket and began bailing like crazy. I could not make progress to shore as I was alone and could not steer and bail at the same time, but sitting there 22 miles off shore and sinking was not a pleasant thought. So I tied off the wheel, which allowed me to bail at the same time. Unfortunately doing 3 knots towards shore made the water come in faster.

At this point I knew I was going down, so I tied all my life preservers together, put one on my dog, Susie, put some cans of water into a small cooler, and got my flare gun. If I was going to have to abandon the vessel I didn't want to die of thirst, or not be able to signal for help, as there was not another boat in sight. I was still loosing the battle when I had the idea to use my washdown pump as a bilge pump also. I broke it loose from the deck, busted the PVC piping to it and tossed it in the bilge.

This pump proved to be the difference between sinking and staying afloat. With the 3 pumps running and me bailing with a 5 gallon bucket I was able to stay even with the incoming water. I putted towards the reef bailing all the way. About two miles off the reef I became so tired I could not bail fast enough and had to call for assistance. On channel 16 I reached Poseidon towing who placed a land line to the Coast Guard Station in Islamorada. They immediately dispatched the 41 foot boat out of Snake Creek and their red zodiac put of Tavernier Creek.

At this point the water was over the batteries, and I knew if the motor quit, it was all over. In about 10 minutes the coast guard was in site with their zodiac, which gave me renewed strength to continue bailing. Upon reaching me one of their men jumped on board and started to bail as I was exhausted.

Soon the 41 footer was on the scene and provided the zodiac with a pump that proved to be my salvation. First we had the pump on their vessel with the suction end in my bilge, but it still could not keep up with the water as the head pressure was too much so we transferred the pump to my vessel which decreased the head pressure and began pumping more water. While all this was happening the zodiac was tied up alongside and the 41 footer was behind me.

With the efforts of the Coast Guard man on my vessel we were able to eventually evacuate enough water using my three pumps , their pump and five gallon buckets, to get the boat up on a plane, zoom down the creek, to Tavernier creek marina , who the coast guard had called for an emergency haul out with their fork lift.

Coming under the bridge I made it to the forklift just as we were becoming awash again. When they lifted the boat up, it looked like Niagara Falls was coming from the split in the hull which was about four feet long and a half an inch wide.

I cannot say thanks enough to the Coast Guard, their professionalism and actions saved my vessel, they were truly a class act, we are very lucky to have such dedicated , professional and courteous Coast Guard personnel to assist in emergency situations. Special thanks to the men on the zodiac, and the crew of the 42 footer who provided the pump. They even went as far as providing a ride from the creek to the boat ramp to get my truck and trailer to put the boat on.

Now the bummer part, I was informed by Tavernier Creek personal that they were charging me $120.00 for lifting my boat up and putting it on the trailer. This seems to me to be a bit outrageous, concerning the emergency nature of the situation, and the fact that they had me where they wanted me, helpless.

I once had a problem with my boat a couple of years ago when I had to be hauled out with the forklift and Ellias at Plantation Boat Mart charged me $25, due to the nature of the situation, which I felt was more than fair.

The moral of the story?? When going offshore by yourself file a float plan with the Coast Guard, or Posiden Towing so somebody know where you are and when you are to be back, and be sure to check in when you get back. Have proper safety equipment, and test it regular, as if my VHF had failed, I probably would be floating in the Gulf Stream off of Fort Lauderdale today.

Do business with locally owned business in the Keys, they care about the locals, Not like Tavernier Creek who I learned is owned by Glen Straub of the Polo Club in Wellington, Palm Beaches, purchased for his daughter, but administered by a management company, with no interest in helping the little guy. When I phoned him to express my displeasure he could not tell me who to call, as "He was just the money guy" and did not really care.

Be aware that this could happen to you too, as I have been boating in the Keys for 25 years and have never had an emergency situation like this, but it did happen, I learned alot, and will be better prepared, and informed the next load of rock I take out to the reef.
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