In June of 1998 Captain Bob joined friends on their boat for a trip to the Florida Middle Grounds. As many of you know this is an area approximately 100 miles from the west coast of Florida. It is, arguably, one of the most prolific marine habitats near Florida. The 37′ Trojan was provisioned and loaded for a 3 day dive trip. We had a crew of five: John, the boat’s Captain; Sally, his wife; Ben, Trudy and myself.
We shoved off at about 1800 and our bearing was 240° from John’s Pass. The big orange ball disappearing in front of us was stunning. Out about 5 miles we set the autopilot, established our watch shifts and settled in to life on board.
We arrived at our first dive site at 0900. We anchored and broke out the breakfast. We were all eager to get wet and quickly established dive teams the dive order. I was in the last team. I had forgotten how spectacular the Middle Grounds are. The size of the fish, the number of fish and the height of the ledge was overwhelming. I new this dive was for acclimation. I would knock ’em dead the next dive.
On ascending from my second dive I had a decompression obligation of 2 minutes. During the stop I thought about modifying my techniques to ensure more fish on the next dive. When I got to the dive platform I noticed my friends moving around the salon and aft deck. As soon as I surfaced Sally began yelling at me: “Get on the boat, we’re sinking.” Now why would I want to board a sinking boat? I heeded her orders and stripped dive gear. I moved to help bail. I didn’t believe this was happening. There was water up to the stern deck plates and still rising.
We removed all the deck plates for access to try to determine the source of the leak all to no avail. By this time another private boat had arrived and was standing by to assist. John had contacted a charter fishing boat who, in turn, radioed the Coast Guard. Remember VHF transmission and reception is line of sight. The Coast Guard was en-route. Meanwhile, the charter boat moved in closer to pass over a hand pump. Ben, Trudy and I pumped and bailed (5 gallon buckets) barely staying even with the flow. Sally and John readied an abandon ship bag and pumped up the life raft on the fore deck. A crew member from the charter boat even swam over to help find the leak. Thank God for calm seas! After what seemed like an eternity, I heard the thumping sound of a helicopter. I now have a deep appreciation for that sound.
The Coast Guard radioed instructions on their procedures for dropping gas powered pumps. They emphasized that the prop wash would blow over anything not stowed or tied down. John, Ben and the charter crew member were on the aft deck, Sally was in the life raft holding it down and Trudy was in the salon. I moved forward to stay out of the way of the pumps. As the helicopter moved closer, I heard Sally screaming for help. I got forward and found that she was pinned to the bow rail by the life raft. The first pump was set-up and the second pump was on its way. I took about 15 minutes for both pumps to drain the water.
We found the source of the leak. The generator had been removed prior to the trip and overboard port plug had dislodged. To compound this, the forward bilge pump was jammed with a piece of wire tie and the aft pump had shorted out. Mechanically, water seeped into the transmission and block. With hole plugged and the water pumped out and no propulsion, we arranged for a tow from a commercial fisherman. It would be three hours until he arrived.
We can’t go anywhere; we’re still anchored to a great ledge. Let’s do another dive!!!
You can find this site in the most GPS coordinates. I’m sure there are still fish there.
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