My friend’s 31-foot Jupiter was loaded down and ready for me to run to Treasure Cay, Bahamas, a 170-mile trip that I had completed 100 or more times in the past. There were some storms approaching from the west, so I pushed off from the dock and initially outran them.
A little shy of the Little Bahama Bank, the boat’s engines and electronics started to act in a peculiar manner. I throttled back and tried to figure out a solution. At this time, both motors died, and the electronics on the boat shut off. I could hear an unfamiliar humming sound coming from the outriggers. My initial thought was the boat had been, or was about to be, struck by lightning. I was eventually able to get the port motor started, so I adjusted my course for an alternate port, West End.
The combination of a heavily loaded boat and only one motor restricted me to a grueling 7-knot (8 mph) pace into a 4-knot (4.6 mph) current. I was making little ground. Then the storms from Florida caught up to me and pushed me farther from West End — but closer toward my original destination of Treasure Cay. I readjusted my course and prepared myself for what would end up being the longest night of my life.
Seas on the bank built to 6 to 8 feet as darkness fell. The wind was gusting at 30 knots (34.5 mph) or more. Every other wave was coming over the bow, making it difficult for the boat to self-bail while putting the bilge pumps through their paces. Shivering-cold rain followed by Earth-shattering thunder and lightning set in for the next several hours. By 2 a.m., the initial storm had passed. The seas were still at least 6 feet, but the wind had somewhat subsided when engine troubles set in again. Tired and worn down, I reluctantly dropped anchor and lay down between the rocket launcher and the helm to try to get some sleep.
Then the wind oddly died down for a moment. I got up from the deck and looked up at the clouds. I saw the start of a waterspout! I grabbed the EPIRB and sought shelter inside the center console. The spout ripped around and across the boat for what felt like an eternity but, realistically, was probably only about 15 minutes.
I stayed in the center console for the remainder of the night and emerged at daybreak. I tried using the VHF: no go. I was out of cell range. I knew the weather forecast wasn’t going to improve for two days or more, and that left me with little or no chance of seeing another boat. Beat up and out of options, I resorted to using the EPIRB. Within 40 minutes of setting it off, the U.S. Coast Guard arrived, and my crazy 20-hour ordeal was finally over with the best possible outcome.
I truly believe that being prepared with the ACR EPIRB saved my life. Also, I was unfamiliar with some of the systems aboard my friend’s boat and didn’t know where certain tools and supplies were stowed. This knowledge may have resulted in a different outcome. I’ll always make sure to complete a thorough pre-departure checklist from here on out.
Finally, thank you, U.S. Coast Guard.
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The U.S. Coast Guard is asking all boat owners and operators to help reduce fatalities, injuries, property damage, and associated healthcare costs related to recreational boating accidents by taking personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their passengers. Essential steps include: wearing a life jacket at all times and requiring passengers to do the same; never boating under the influence (BUI); successfully completing a boating safety course; and getting a Vessel Safety Check (VSC) annually from local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons(r), or your state boating agency’s Vessel Examiners. The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to “Boat Responsibly!” For more tips on boating safety, visit www.uscgboating.org.