Log: October 9, 2018 Time is 1300.
Set sail from Melbourne, Florida at 0800. Today is not as beautiful as yesterday. Sailing through moderate choppy waters. Slowly but surely there is a storm brewing as I am observing the clouded skies above me. I see a faint darkness pulsing its way in a fairly quick manner. My radio seems to be going on the blink, one time I can connect to a station and another time not. I have no idea of what the actual weather forecast is but I feel it in my gut, I’ll soon be in a major storm. The weather has changed from warm and mild to frosty chills. The wind velocity was a friendly 65 mph, I reckon it is now near to 90 mph.
You can tell from the handwriting how rough it’s getting. I hope to find a safe harbor before I get hopelessly off track. I have just passed West Palm Beach. In hindsight I should have stopped at Port Salerno. Too late now.
Matthew put his log safely away into a waterproof bag and locked it around a pole in the galley. He pulled on his waterproof gear and topped it off with a life jacket. He double checked the pocket flares in his vest. He felt the excitement, his adrenalin started racing but even so he gave into his fear, lurking in the back of his mind.
He was ready after that last bump, feeling his boat tilting – rising up like a dolphin and crashing back down, seeing the waves washing his cabin windows. He bolted the door after him, climbed the steps. A blast of wind caught him off balance, he swore fighting his way to the bow. He debated whether to chain himself to the boat but then he thought better of it.
I mean if the boat capsizes that means I’d go under, right? So Dude, keep your cool. This has been your dream and so far it’s been a fantastic adventure. Now, I’ll see just what I’m made of. I’ll prove it to my Dad too. He’s always thought I listened to Mom and I am therefore a pampered child. He’s right to an extent, I never enjoyed ‚boyhood sports’ like football, tennis and karate, etc. I explored the world of music and took to the water. He should appreciate that, at least. And I have to be thankful for his gift – this 22 foot cruiser upon my graduation. I never ever expected that. I’m surprised Dad even knew about my future plans. I bet Lisa Anne showed him my pin board with Dave Laarson’s picture and phone number. I’ll have to thank her too.
Whoa, there! The waters are not getting any calmer. There’s no way for me to steer this boat.
Matthew was glad he had put the boat on automatic pilot. He then tried to make radio contact with one of the ports along the Floridian coast. As before, he thought he heard a voice talking to him but when he himself tried to give his last known position, he received no confirmation that his call went through. He managed to double check that all loose objects aboard the boat were well fastened down, more like being glued in place. He began to heave buckets of water over the rails, to no avail really. The bilge pumps seemed to have slowed down.
The sky was really dark now, black as a crow, a shame the boat couldn’t fly like one but it seemed to be holding its own in the fury of the storm. Just as Matthew believed he was managing, he slipped, the wind picked up, the waves were forcing themselves aboard the boat. He didn’t realize what had happened but the last attack spewed him overboard.
He bravely fought his way back to the boat when a wave attacked again and drew him under. Matthew had no time to panic, he knew he had to stay afloat. The life jacket did its bit to keep him close to the surface. Each time he perceived he’d make it back onto his boat, he discovered his eyes were deceiving him. He was too far away. Soon all track of the time was lost. As unbelievable as it was, the night was approaching. He must have taken longer at writing his log than he remembered. Chills ran through his body. The storm did not abate. Repeatedly again and again the waves rolled him around as a little toy soldier until he spotted a piece of wood aimed straight at him, he ducked to avoid being struck. Lucky whew! Auw! Matthew never saw the second piece bearing down on him. Laying in the water, his unconscious body meandered according to the water’s will.
„Hey Pete, did you get a hold of the Coast Guard?“
„Not yet!“ he yelled. „Shall I try again?“
„Yes, it looks like there’s a stranded boat – see about 1-2 miles east of us. I’ve got the search lights pointed there.“
10 minutes later, Pete addresses Michel. „I got a hold of them. They say they think someone is out here. They’ve had a shaky connection and could not confirm it or any position. They did have a confirmation that a Matthew Billington had left the docks of Melbourne this morning, headed for the Glades. What do you think? Shall we go for the boat or begin searching the waters here? We have also drifted away from our course.“
„ I wish I knew. Logically, we should check out the boat, but we’re still being whiplashed and hard. It could be a waste of time. Shall we toss a coin? Heads – the boat, Tails – a search in the direction of our drifting. You or me?“
Pete tosses the coin: „Heads!“
Fighting the storm, their boat was much stronger than Matthew’s. They made it to the stranded boat in under an hour, the wind howling and pushing. Pete was the agile one. He swung himself over the rails, ran a quick check below the deck. „Empty!“ he cried.
Once Pete was back on board, they headed determinedly back towards their last position. Darkness prevailed as Michel swung the search lights in all of the ensuing black pit. Neither of them had much hope of finding a body in the lonely waters. Sure no stars out tonight. They decided to swing the boat around with the search lights one final time. They soon realized that their boat, even though steered by Michel, was drifting towards Fort Lauderdale.
Luckily for Matthew, his waterproof gear was of a bright color. Pete caught a glimpse of color, blinked his eyes and tried to focus them on that wee spot. Calling Michel to confirm it, but again waves began to buffet the boat about like a duck in a bathtub. They waited patiently until the waves passed on. „Yes, there,“ Michel saw yellow, like a canary bird. Pete tied himself with a sailor’s knot to the boat railing with a lengthy piece of rope.
He dropped over the side and slid into the cold, dark water, not really knowing what he’d meet. Waves again, what an atrocious storm flux. Michel tried to keep the boat stationary. Pete couldn’t believe that the piece of yellow was wrapped around a young man bobbing lifelessly. Pete began the long journey back to the boat with his live bundle.
Heaving the bundle aboard the boat, Pete and Michel managed to get him below deck, lay him on the bed and out of his gear. Still quite unconscious, Matthew was at least breathing. The two sailors decided to try to bring the boat into the next immediate port.
Pete rang the Coast Guard and explained they had a new passenger on board. He requested an ambulance to meet them at Fort Lauderdale. Michel went back to steering the boat while Pete massaged some life back into the limbs of Matthew.
„Auw!“ Shit, where am I? What a sore head! „Auw!“
„Take it easy there young fellow. You’ve been a victim of the hurricane Michael, we are attempting to bring you and ourselves, mind you, into Fort Lauderdale. I guess you cannot speak just yet, that’s quite a lump on that head of yours. I imagine you must be seeing stars when you try to sit up. Thank the Lord, we were out there. Lay still, I’ll fetch you some warm tea.“
Oh did I see stars but for a life experience! Thanks to my two rescuers. Thanks to my Dad and Lisa Anne. Hurricane Michael, October 10, 2018 will never be forgotten.