Saturday, May 16, 2015

Say your position and nature of distress, over

We are anchored just off the beach on the west side of South Bimini, near the Bimini Sands resort and marina (map). We had a bit of excitement around here this morning, and I've been up since 4am. I've already fixed three things on the boat, but this morning's incident reminds me that we have nothing but minor problems here aboard Vector.

We enjoyed our time at Cat Cay. We had a nice dinner at the Nauticat restaurant after we arrived Tuesday, even though the tender ride ashore was a bit choppy. We enjoyed snorkeling off the swim step or just relaxing in the water on our pool noodles each day -- the water here is now a pleasant 83°. And Thursday we returned to the club for a nice lunch at the open-air bar next to the docks, plus a stop at the very nice store on the island. So nice, in fact, that no prices were visible anywhere -- we bought just four items.

Cat Cay, with the airstrip in foreground and marina in background, from our anchorage.

As pleasant as it was on the island, most of which is off limits to non-members, there was little to protect us from the easterlies and the chop they brought. We were anchored on the east side of the island, where the marina is, and only a small shoal stood between us and the entire fetch of the bank. So yesterday we opted to weigh anchor and move along.

I had plotted a route that remained on the bank, but that would have us crossing some pretty shallow spots, and it turned out to be choppier on the bank side than the strait side, so we exited to the Strait of Florida at the cut between Cat and Gun cays. We crossed only one 8' section (at mid-tide rising) and then had to negotiate something of an S-curve at the cut, but we were soon in clear blue water, hundreds of feet deep.

I had hoped to do a circle around the wreck of the Sapona, a possible snorkel site for when our friends join us, but that was on the other route, and we had to be content with seeing it from a mile and a half away.  It's quite large and easy to see even from that distance, but I could not get a good photo; you can see one if you click the link.

We turned back in just south of South Bimini, heading for an anchorage known as Nixon's Harbor. That turned out to be just as choppy as where we had been at Cat, with some swell to boot, and we turned back around and came here instead. We dropped the hook about 600' further offshore than we lie now, and enjoyed a nice dinner and a beautiful sunset over the strait. There was no chop, but a medium-period swell rocked us all evening.

Bimini is almost more a part of south Florida than a part of the Bahamas. After sunset I could see Florida's light pollution to the west, a sodium-orange glow pervading the whole western skyline. We hear the US Coast Guard in Miami here easily, and we also hear calls from TowboatUS and SeaTow in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, although we seldom hear the other end of these calls. But mostly, the waters here are full of obnoxious recreational boaters in go-fast boats who come over for an evening or a weekend.

And so it should not have surprised us that we listened to someone's loud stereo from over a half mile away all evening, and breathed wood smoke from a huge bonfire on the beach complete with loud and presumably intoxicated revelers. And, of course, we are constantly waked by express cruisers zipping by on plane. We just shrugged, figured it's Bimini, Florida, and resolved that we'd be out of here just as soon as our guests are aboard and squared away.

Louise went to bed early, and I drowned out the Friday-night noise by watching TV with my headphones on until midnight, when I turned in. It was a short sleep; just after 4am I woke to voices, and realized Louise was in the pilothouse talking on the radio. I could tell from the voices at both ends that it was not good. I scrambled upstairs, now wide awake.

Louise had heard a MAYDAY call, loud and clear as from a close-by radio. It turned out to not really be a mayday -- a code word reserved exclusively for imminent danger to life and limb, but more appropriately a Pan-Pan, which is a vessel in distress but not immediately life-threatening.

After just a couple of minutes we realized the boat on the radio was literally on the beach right in front of us, perhaps 1,500' or so. They were taking on water and trying to reach TowBoatUS, perhaps mistakenly thinking they were still stateside (see above). While we were talking to them, TowBoatUS in Fort Lauderdale, who has a very tall antenna, did manage to come back to them, and said they *might* be able to do *something* if they called back after 9am.

We copied their position and I finally asked them if they could see the remains of a bonfire on the beach, and they told me "we are the bonfire." Still I could not make out their boat, which was unlit, through the darkness. Their description of the distress made it sound like they just needed some help with pumping the boat out or maybe pulling it off the beach.

And so it was that at 4:30am we ended up splashing the tender in the dark. I donned a swim suit and my inflatable PFD, and headed over to the beach. Louise remained aboard Vector, along with my cell phone, to man the radio. I had the handheld spotlight with me, and before I even got within 500' of them I knew they were in deep trouble.

The boat was a 31' deep-vee center console with a custom tuna tower. By the time I arrived it was half-beached, heeled over perhaps 30°, with the port quarter awash. The gunwale was below the water surface, with no way to pump the boat out without first somehow lifting that corner. Not something five of us and a 25 horsepower tender were going to be able to do. These guys had figured if they could just pull it to deeper water they could even the keel and pump it out, but I'm certain it just would have sunk. I don't think a 31' Sea Vee is a self-righting, inherent-flotation boat.

The two couples on the beach didn't seem to know much about the boat at all, and I soon learned why -- it belonged to a friend and they borrowed it for a weekend in Bimini. They had planned to just spend the night on the beach or on board the boat. Most of their gear was already ashore, around the bonfire. I suggested they call the owner for advice, but they seemed reluctant to tell him what happened until they had some kind of resolution.

With no substantive way to help physically, the best we could do was to get some phone numbers off the Internet and make some calls for them. Somewhere in all the calling around and the radio traffic, the local constabulary became aware of the situation, and a few minutes later they were on scene in their boat. I wished them all luck and returned home.

How it looked in the light of day. Both engines and most of the console submerged. Boat behind them is the salvage crew.

We went back to bed, but before I could get any sleep it was dawn, and I went upstairs to check on a noise I was hearing, possibly our tender banging into the swim step. When I looked ashore I could see their boat had rolled over to 90°, sunk at the beach. Whereas both engines, and all the controls and electronics were still high and dry when I left them, now one outboard was fully submerged and the other half-under, along with all the wiring panels, electronics, controls, and lockers.

After an hour, they had it back to about where it was when I first saw it. Remains of the bonfire are to the left.

We made a pot of coffee and decided to go back to offer a ride or whatever else they needed, but before I even finished a cup, some locals in a center console had come by to help. These guys knew what they were doing and had the proper recovery tackle to right the boat and get it floated, which took them perhaps an hour. We opted to drive around scooping up flotsam that had come out of all the lockers and was starting to head out to sea. Whoever owned this boat had lots of sun block.

Just part of the giant pile of flotsam we collected.

Eventually the Bahamians towed the boat to the Bimini Sands Marina for repairs or whatever, and the group left the beach an hour or so later with all their gear, I think to a hotel room there. They'll ride back on the ferry, the same one that is bringing our friends in a few days.

Vector, as seen from the beach near the wreck. As far as I could tell, the folks in these two anchored vessels never even woke up. The calm-looking area behind the sailboat is the sheen from the wreck, which enveloped Vector a short time later.

I don't know what it costs to fix something like this, but a quick search shows the boat is worth something north of $100k. It was only under for a few hours, and if they rinse all the gear with fresh water quickly they may be able to dry and salvage some of it. I'm trying to imagine how the phone call back to the friend who loaned them the boat went. And the reason for all this? They ran the boat onto the beach instead of anchoring a few dozen feet away.

When we launched the tender last night, the nav lights didn't work, and when I got home the automatic cat litter box had quit working. And the bolts on the anchor roller were coming loose when we dropped the hook here. I fixed all three today, counting myself lucky to be plagued with minor annoyances like this on an almost daily basis. Even my "big" project earlier in the week, wherein I had to stick my arm down into the (empty) waste tank to shoot compressed air into the blocked vent line, pales in comparison. (That gambit appears to have worked and the vent is clear now.)

After all the drama was over this morning and we finished our second coffee, we ended up weighing anchor and moving 600' closer to shore. We still have some swell here but it is less than where we were. I had been reluctant to come this close yesterday in Vector because the chart shows it shallowing, but we had plenty of opportunity to sound it in the tender while we chased down over a dozen bottles of sunblock, several coozies, a bottle of Dawn, and other detritus from the wreck.

About an hour after we vacated the spot, a 164' megayacht, Ariana, dropped anchor in that exact spot and started unloading toys for their $200,000-a-week charter guests. Methinks we're in for a noisy weekend. This afternoon we'll take the tender into town for dinner and to check the place out. At least it's already in the water and has working nav lights.


  1. Hm, I'm not much of a one for lending "things" to friends, and now that has been reinforced. Serves everyone right. Just lucky there was no injury or worse. Silly bunts.

  2. "Lending"....a good way to destroy


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