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
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
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
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.