My family and I were having a nice day at our local inlet sandbar on the Florida coast. The scene was Saturday, about 3 p.m., and we were packing our stuff up for the day. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a 20-foot center console pushing off the sandbar, leaving. Aboard were a husband and wife and an older gentleman.
The boat was now free from the ’bar. The older gentleman was trying to retrieve the stern anchor as the boat drifted in the strong current running out the inlet. The aft anchor was stuck good, and I saw the line slip out of the older gentleman’s hands as the boat drifted.
Suddenly, I saw him go over the gunwale feet first! He managed to hold on to the grab rail with both hands while his legs were in the water. Then it dawned on me: The anchor line tangled with his leg and pulled him overboard!
Splash! He let go of the rail. Under he went.
I jumped into action, swimming 20 yards over to him. He was underwater when I got to him. Meanwhile, the guy piloting the boat jumped overboard, leaving the woman to run the boat. The older gentleman went under twice more. I reached down and grabbed his arm to keep his head above water while the other guy went down to untangle his leg from the anchor line.
Once he was freed, floating and stabilized, I swam over to their boat, which was now adrift. I worked my way around to the swim ladder and noticed the engines were both running, exhaust bubbling up from below. I asked the woman if the engines were in gear, but she had no idea and she was starting to panic. I was worried that she may gun it if they were in gear. Not wanting to be injured by a spinning prop, I swam away, figuring that she was not in immediate danger.
Now I was out in the deeper channel, and I began my swim back to the sandbar. I expended a tremendous amount of energy, as the current was really moving out. After swimming my hardest and going nowhere for a few minutes, I gave up, flipped on my back to float, and just allowed myself to relax and go with the tide. Thankfully, I ended up on one of the other sandbars in the area, and I walked back to the other island completely gassed. What an end to the day.
Faced with the same situation again, I would don a life jacket for myself. I am an excellent swimmer, but that skill can neither overcome a person drowning nor help much when caught in a ripping current. I would also inform my crew that if an anchor appears to be stuck, tie it off or let it go. It’s not worth your life. Always make sure to keep arms and legs from tangling in the anchor rode.
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