Wa­ter ad­ven­tures told by those sur­viv­ing them

Wa­ter ad­ven­tures told by those sur­viv­ing them

RSWLiving - - Features - BY DIANE YORK Diane York is an award-win­ning writer who splits her time be­tween Rich­mond, Va., and her beloved Sani­bel Is­land.

Even when their lives are at stake, ocean cap­tains, ad­ven­tur­ers and wildlife au­thor­i­ties can­not help but go back for more. And there are ex­cit­ing sto­ries to be told.


Life at Five Knots au­thor Scott McPhee has sailed the world on Shad­ow­fax, a 46-foot ketch. In four years af­ter leav­ing Cap­tiva, McPhee and Gretchen Falk sailed some 32,000 miles. One fright­en­ing experience was ne­go­ti­at­ing the Strait of Gi­bral­tar, a dreaded 30-mile-long chan­nel be­tween Spain and Morocco. The strait is only 10 miles wide, with rocky moun­tains on ei­ther side that act as a fun­nel for high winds.

McPhee says that on the dark night he at­tempted pas­sage, he counted 26 huge freighters, each the size of small cities, tow­er­ing over him as they ne­go­ti­ated the pass. “We were not ap­pear­ing on their radar,” he says, “so we tried to stay on the ra­dio at­tempt­ing con­tact. One mas­sive freighter kept bear­ing down on us no mat­ter which way we turned. They would not an­swer our calls. On deck, we threw spot­lights up on our sails hop­ing they would see us. Mo­ments later it squeaked by us―so close we could see the white wake hit­ting us against the black wa­ter.” A close call McPhee would not for­get.


Mick Gur­ley of New Moon Sail­ing in Cap­tiva was cap­tain­ing a char­ter to Key West. “We had a great sail down to Key West,” Gur­ley says. “But just 20 miles from our des­ti­na­tion, sud­denly we were in trou­ble.”

Hur­ri­cane Mitch had pre­vi­ously turned in­land over Cen­tral Amer­ica and weak­ened. With­out warn­ing, the Cat­e­gory 5 storm turned back to­ward the U.S. “My 35-foot sailboat,” he says, “was sud­denly in the midst of 15-foot waves crash­ing over the boat. The winds were 50 miles per hour and howl­ing. The rain pelted us and made it im­pos­si­ble to see. My only chance was to turn the boat straight into it and make for shore. It was a strug­gle to con­trol the boat.” It took an ag­o­niz­ing 15 hours of fight­ing the storm to go that last 20 miles, he says. “I felt lucky to be alive and so re­lieved my clients were safe.”


Florida Fish and Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Com­mis­sion Of­fi­cer Stu­art Spoede of­ten makes res­cues. But an in­jured man­a­tee can be tough. “We had five of­fi­cers and one in­tern in a spe­cial boat [near Pine Is­land],” he says. As the crew strug­gled to get the man­a­tee aboard, it pan­icked, hit­ting the in­tern with its tail, send­ing him fly­ing into the wa­ter. “It’s easy to get in­jured with bro­ken bones or lose your fin­gers if they get caught in the net and the an­i­mal turns,” he says. The crew got the man­a­tee to Sara­sota for med­i­cal care.


Florida Fish and Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Com­mis­sion bi­ol­o­gist Andy Gar­rett dis­cov­ered a dol­phin trapped in an Ever­glades man­grove lake. His crew took air­boats, jumped over­board to get close. “We found our­selves in waist-high wa­ter,” he says, “but we were not alone. There were al­li­ga­tors in there. We had to keep a con­stant eye on them and, yes, we were scared.” Hold­ing the ga­tors at bay, the dol­phin was res­cued. “We never know,” he says, “where or what we will be re­spond­ing to.”

Got a great sea story? Share it with us at toti-of­[email protected]

Sail­ing the world, Cap­tiva au­thor Scott McPhee has weath­ered dan­ger, in­clud­ing a pas­sage of the Strait of Gi­bral­tar (below).

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