Monday, November 21, 2011

Wednesday ~ Saturday Isla Mujeres Mexico to Key West Florida

Wednesday:  The weather looked promising so we were up early getting everything ready to go.  J and Jerr came out to see us off as this would be the official split of the "Jackass Armada"  J and Jerr finally finished dealing with the insurance company and were planning on renting a car and driving down to Rio Dulce Guatemala and looking for a new boat.  We will most certainly miss our traveling companions and wish them the best of luck finding a new boat and fair winds.  Jamie came to work early to see us off and help us with the dock lines.  The way the wind was blowing it was a good thing.  Immediately after casting off the lines the wind caught the boat and we all had to work hard to keep from hitting the dock pylons or other boats.

We left the dock at 6:45 am and headed over to the fuel dock.  We filled up all the tanks, including the auxiliary "jerry cans" which gave us a total of 86 gallons onboard.  This should be around a 70 hour crossing and at 1 gallon per hour, we should have plenty of fuel.  The direct line route is 342 miles from dock to dock.  We departed Isla Mujeres at 7:10 and set a direct course of 54 degrees.  The seas were 2~3 feet and winds Northeast.  So we were not sailing but making 5.5 knots toward Florida.  About an hour out we were joined by a pod of dolphins that darted around, under, and alongside the boat for over 30 minutes.  Amazing animals to watch. 

Beth hit the sack around noon to prepare for the night shift.  We had to shift off our intended course to a little more northerly due to the winds and seas but we were still making good time.  Beth took over around 6pm and it was my turn to hit the sack. The wind and seas were pretty constant and we were getting a little help from the northerly Gulf stream.  We had a little company from passing cargo ships through the night but the AIS let us know where they were, their course, speed and that we were not going to hit them.

Thursday morning sunrise with a cargo ship for company
I got up around 5am and Beth took a short nap then got up and tried to get a little sun.  The Thursday forecast was holding true as the seas were gentle, 1~2 ft waves although the winds were still northeast so again, no sailing but we were making good time.  We were well into the Gulf Stream and cruising between 6.5 to 7 knots and if we could keep up this pace, we would be early and arrive Friday evening.  About mid afternoon the reel  that we had been trolling with screamed which sent the dogs into a frenzy.  I reeled in a nice Mahi mahi which after Catie played with it on deck for a minute was released.

Beth went to lay down about 4 and shortly after, another pod of dolphins joined us. These guys are so fast they are hard to catch on camera but we always enjoy company on the trip.  The sunset was gorgeous as usual and Beth returned to the cockpit around 7ish.  The seas had picked up a little and were 2~3 feet with about 15 knots of Northeast wind so the ride was getting a little bumpy but not bad.  I am not sure when I got sick but I started heaving.  There wasn't alot on my stomach so the majority was dry heaves. I turned in around 10 but the winds and seas continued to increase through the night. The forecast didn't show this increase as it said the wind should be shifting to the north.  This slowed us down to about 4 knots. 

Friday : When things got interesting and took an odd turn.
I got up about 5 and was feeling a bit better. Beth was ready to hit the bed as she was feeling a bit queasy.  The seas had increased to 3 to 5 ft with the occasional 8 ft swell.  The winds were a steady 20 knots from the northeast.  Beth had chosen a little more northerly route during the night to make the ride smoother and after playing around with the heading for a bit, kept us on the course she had set.  This should put us in the northern part of the gulf stream and help carry us to Florida but with the wind and waves, any advantage we were getting from the current was taken away. We were making 3.5 to 4 knots.  With the sunrise I was feeling better, not nauseous but not great. The wind was in my face followed with an occasional blast of sea spray.
The sun was warm and while the ride was still a bit rough, it wasn't bad.  Beth got up around 11:30 and was heaving over the rail.  I was exhausted and feeling hot and tired so she took over while I took a nap.  I didn't let on to Beth that I was actually feeling quite weak and was feeling some pressure in my chest.  I thought a little rest would help and it wasn't anything to alarm her about.  After laying down for about 1/2 hour, the constant movement of the boat wasn't helping my condition any and soon I was back in the cockpit and over the rail, quite violently this time.  It was obvious that I was quite ill but me not letting Beth in on my actual condition seemed like the right thing to do at the time.  After the hours of heaving, I had little on my stomach and was very reluctant to put anything on it as I knew it would be coming back up.  I did keep down one of the drink packs that Leon had given us but the pressure in my chest was increasing to constant.  I moved a couple of the jerry cans to refill the gas tanks and found myself sweating profusely and short of breath.  That was about 3 pm and I started considering exactly how sick I was.  From my little heart episode back in 05 I knew the symptoms of a cardiac issue and this was starting to look alot like one.  After refilling the tanks, I laid down to see if that would help.  Within 1/2 an hour the pressure was increased and I was feeling light headed.  I started looking at where we were, how long we had to go and considering my options.  We were about 85 miles off Key West and at the rate we were traveling, it would be over 20 hours.  Fuel was becoming an issue as fighting the winds and current, my calculations showed we might be about 5 gallons short.  Not a real issue in itself as we have BoatUS unlimited membership and they would happily bring us fuel or tow us in when we got close enough to Key West. 80 miles wasn't close enough and my situation was deteriorating.  I chose a course to the Dry Tortugas where we could secure the boat and get medical attention. The dry tortugas were still 40 miles out which was 8 hours, more like 10 because we just couldn't make good time in the conditions.  It was about 4pm when I gave Beth all the current facts and when I made the first radio call requesting assistance.  Two cargo ships answered my distress call but didn't have any medical personnel aboard but they set up a radio relay that got the details of the situation to the US Coast Guard, Sector Key West. I had no idea how this was going to work but I felt bad enough that something needed to be done.  Beth was quite concerned and wanted me to get to a hospital and get checked out and everything else would be figured out as we went.

After multiple radio calls with a ship out of Texas relaying to the USCG they determined that I needed to be taken off the boat and transported.  They dispatched a USCG Cutter "Sawfish" to intercept us. 
Stock photo of USCG Cutter "Sawfish"
We are really sorry for the lack of actual pictures of the following story.  We were a bit busy and taking pictures wasn't even considered.  We also apologize for not getting pictures or the names of all the officers and crewmen of the USCG Cutter "Sawfish", other support vessels, airmen,  and excellent communications personnel of the USCG. Also keep in mind this was written after the fact knowing the outcome.

The cutter arrived around 6pm and with absolute professionalism, courtesy and efficiency dispatched a small RIB "boat" to remove me from the boat and place one of their crewmen aboard with Beth.  The RIB was a really cool diesel powered boat.   The transfer of myself to their boat and their crewman to "Second Chance" was handled easily.  This is where this story splits.  In the black text will by my account of events once I left Second Chance.  The dark blue text following my account is Beth's story while we were apart.  The dark green text was going to be Catie and Cocoa's tale of the events but they were just too tired and had issues using the keyboard so you can ask them yourself when you see them.

The Rib is housed on the cutter in the stern via a small garage door and ramp.  It was like a ride at Disneyland reentering the cutter.  The skipper of the RIB guided it in quite smoothly considering the rough seas we were in.  These guys have some really cool toys.  Once aboard the cutter, I was taken to the bridge and told that a helicopter was being dispatched to take me to the hospital and their ETA was about an hour.  I was asked how I was feeling, which was a bit better even though the pressure I was feeling was pretty constant.  I wasn't feeling short of breath but was exhausted.  There were about 10 cubans on deck that the cutter had picked up trying to make their way to Florida.  All of the crew of the cutter were very professional and courteous and took me down to the galley to rest until the helicopter arrived.  This cutter is 87ft long and at least 3 stories tall and the movement of the ship in the conditions and slow speed were making me queasy as the movement was totally different from what I was accustomed to.  I headed up on deck to get some fresh air.  The cutter was escorting Second Chance back to Key West, maintaining about 5 knots.  The helicopter, based out of Clearwater was dispatched from Miami to intercept us.  It arrived around 7:15 and I was briefed on how the transfer would take place.  It was already dark and the helicopter appeared out of the darkness and I was led onto the foredeck of the cutter.  The helicopter lowered a line to the deck of the cutter where two crewmen grabbed the line, then a basket was lowered to the deck.  It was a bit intimidating with the ship pitching and rolling in the seas but I was instructed to get in the basket.  Because of the seas, the liftoff was a bit interesting. Just as the helicopter started to lift, the ship pitched tossing the basket, with me in it, into the lifelines of the cutter.  These guys on the cutter and the helicopter were really good and put me in the right position to be lifted up, and it was a quick lift.  I tried to thank each person I came into contact with and tell them how much I appreciated the job they did and for helping us out.  If I missed thanking someone on the cutter, please know that the job you do is very appreciated.
Once aboard the helicopter, I was strapped in and given a head set where I was asked all the usual medical questions and since I wasn't critical, we headed toward Key West international airport.  This was my first time flying in a helicopter and it wasn't unpleasant.  The helicopter was similar to a blackhawk model which is very stable and fast.  We were cruising at about 105 knots with a 30 knot headwind, we landed about 40 minutes after I was aboard.  The cutter remained with Second Chance and had transferred another crewman for the task of bringing Second Chance to Key West.  There was an ambulance waiting at the airport and I was quickly transferred.  I was given an IV, vitals taken, EKG and transported to the hospital.  Upon my arrival I was quickly taken care of and checked out.  Blood was taken, another IV hung, another EKG, a chest Xray and a nitro patch applied. The only abnormal reading was my blood pressure was a bit high but the nitro patch took care of that. My resting heart rate was 59 with 15 respirations per min.  I was feeling a bit better and the pressure in my chest was lessening.  The staff at the Lower Keys Medical Center were friendly and efficient.  After 45 minutes or so the pressure in my chest was relieved and the doctor came by again to discuss the events of the day, and the events leading up to the event.  After reviewing the blood tests, it didn't show any indications of a cardiac event but did indicate dehydration, exhaustion, exposure and extreme electrolyte imbalance.  The IV's took care of the dehydration and apparently they had given me something to balance things out. They wanted to keep me overnight for "observation" but I couldn't justify it and I was concerned about Beth.  I left the hospital about 10:30pm AMA.  The other good news is that I am down to 190 lbs from 230 when we started this trip on May 1.  Apparently life on the boat and living in Mexico is a pretty good diet and healthy lifestyle.
Ok, so I wasn't going to die and even though I knew Beth was in excellent hands, I was feeling bad about deserting her at sea.  I didn't have a way to contact her to let her know everything was ok.  So, I was on Stock Island barefoot, in shorts and a t-shirt with a life vest.  I am quite sure I was an interesting sight as I walked down the street toward town. I walked to a convenience store and got a drink and called a cab. The cab i called had not showed up within 20 minutes so I started trying to flag one down.  Fortunately a Dominos Pizza delivery car came by and offered me a ride to Garrison Bight which was at least part of Key West I knew.  I was able to get an actual cab here, went to Duval St. and went to CVS where I got some shoes, basic toiletries and a t-shirt. I headed to Key West Bight marina hoping to find someone on their boat so I could use their VHF radio to try to contact Beth but the place was pretty dead as it was about midnight. I asked around where I might find decent accomodations for the night without having to mortgage the house and was directed back to the other side of the island where I got a room for $100.  Now I was back in the USA, worried about Beth, the babies and the boat. I could eat at all the places we had been talking about going since we landed in Mexico but wasn't the least bit hungry.  I was exhausted and just needed to crash. 
I made it to the motel about 1am and was out quickly.

Saturday:  Up at 6 am and headed to the marina.   I was there by 7 and used their radio to contact the cutter who was still escorting Second Chance.  I relayed my medical condition so they could relay that info to Beth.  When we split, the eta of Second Chance to Key West was 9am.  They updated me on their position and speed and the new ETA was 11am.  The seas had apparently gotten worse and it was more like a washing machine with a northeast wind at 20+ knots.  So I had absolutly nothing to do as everything I wanted was on the boat.  I walked down to an internet cafe and checked email, had breakfast and waited until 9:30 to head over to the USCG base to await the arrival.  I got to the gate about 9 and the call button didn't work so I walked about 1/2 mile to the other entrance which was the Navy entrance.  They wouldn't allow me through and instructed me to go back to the gate and try again.  I got someones attention and was taken to the ready room.  There were several USCG personnel around watching TV and having breakfast.  They got an update on the situation and the cutter had departed and a tow vessel had taken over escort duty and they were now towing Second Chance in and their ETA was 4 hours which would put them in around 1pm.  I got a phone number to call and check and headed out.  I went to Radio Shack and picked up a disposable phone and called family to give them an update on what was going on.  I searched around town for a pet friendly motel room as I figured Beth would really appreciate that once she got here.  Unfortunately Key West is a very expensive town and the best rate I found, with availability was over $400 for one night.  I headed to the internet cafe to do a computer search to see if I could do any better but wasn't successful there either.  I was able to track Second Chance via the onboard AIS and they were approaching Key West.  The SPOT had stopped working as it has to be reset every 24 hours in tracking mode and Beth didn't know about that.  Fortunately the AIS picked up just about where SPOT stopped.  So as I was surfing, I was keeping an eye on their progress.   When I saw them make the turn past Mallory Square, I started walking to the USCG post.  As I approached the base, I saw the mast of Second Chance at the dock and was escorted by one of the guys that helped bring her in.  As we rounded the corner to the dock, Beth was already walking the dogs and was in very good spirits and as happy to see me as I was to see her and the babies.

Beth's Account of the events.

When the CG took John they left Sam to help me get the boat to Key West.  They said that he would stay with me to help keep up with the cutter until John was airlifted then they would send someone else to help since it was going to be a long trip because we could only manage 4 to 5 knots because of the weather conditions.  We talked and tried to keep up with the Sawfish. Sam was good at keeping me and the babies calm and was very good at steering the boat. Then after an hour or so, the Sawfish called and said that John had been airlifted and they were sending another man over to help and asked if we needed anything. The USCG crewmen were always very nice and always making sure we were ok. Mikey was the one who came over to help us. We all talked for a few minutes then decided it was time to start taking shifts. Sam was going to take the first shift then Mikey then me. So Mikey laid down and tried to sleep, ( due to the wind and the waves it was a very bumpy ride and was hard to sleep). Then after I made sure everything was good I went and laid down but was back up in a couple of minutes due to seasickness. So after a few minutes over the rail, I told Sam I wasn't going to sleep anytime soon due to being so sick and so worried so he could go lay down and I would wake up Mikey when I got tired. Around midnight I was getting tired and was hoping I might get some rest so I woke up Mikey a little after midnight and showed him how to work everything and went to bed. After a few minutes I was back up and over the rail sick again so I stayed out and talked with him for a little while then started feeling a little better so I tried going to bed again. I actually went to sleep for a few minutes then woke up because we had stopped because the gas tank we were on was empty. I heard them trying to get the engine started and then they came and got me and I got it started on the first try (which never happens) at which I realized I had forgotten to show them there was a little trick to get it started, and after they they didn't have a problem. So we got back on our way and I went back to bed but I didn't really get a lot of sleep cause I was up off and on all night till about 6am when we were out of gas again. It took a little longer cause we had to pump the gas from a small tank into another tank but we got it going again and called the Sawfish and let them know that we were going again and the Sawfish informed us that a USCG towboat should meet us around 8:30am and that they gotten word about John and that he was ok, it was not a heart attack it was only dehydration and he was released from the hospital and would meet us at the dock. I was so relieved,  I took over and let Sam and Mikey get some sleep till the towboat got there. At 9am I saw the towboat and woke them up. The towboat came over and dropped off Scott and then the Sawfish came over and picked up Sam and Mikey and they made sure that we were set then they were back on their way. Once I realized they were not making the trip back with us I called them and told them thank you so much. Scott got the boat rigged to be towed and we were off. We were doing around 7 knots and making good time. We didn't have a lot to do so we just talked. Then about 2 hours out I heard him ask Justin, the captain of the towboat, about a football game so I told him we had XM and he could listen to it if he could find it so we listened to the game almost all the way back. About a half hour out, Scott noticed that the arch had broken a weld at the base and called Justin and told him to slow down and then rigged the arch so it wouldn't get worse but because we had to slow down a half hour turned into an hour out. Finally a little after 2 we were at the USCG dock. YAY! We were all so happy. Scott did a very good job at docking the boat and all the guys on the dock was very nice and helpful. I asked if they knew where John was and they said they hadn't seen him since 9am. I was a little worried but knew he would show up eventually. Scott did some paper work then we all got off the boat. The babies were so very happy to be on land and to go to the bathroom. We had not seen Cocoa go to the bathroom the entire trip and had only seen Catie go once so they really had to go. Scott showed me where they could go then showed me the building to go to and wait for John. After the babies were done we started toward the building and I saw Scott and John walking toward us. I was so happy and so were the babies. I gave him a big hug and kiss and so did the babies. We walked back to the boat and told Scott thank you again and left the dock and headed to Key West Bight Marina.
 I tried to thank each person I came into contact with and tell them how much I appreciated the job they did and for helping us out.  If I missed thanking someone on the cutter, the towboat or the base please know that the job you do is very appreciated.

Once the reunion was over and we had thanked everyone, we boarded Second Chance, started the engine and cast off from the USCG dock and headed to Key West Bight Marina fuel dock.  We filled the tanks and I calculated that there was about 2 gallons of fuel onboard.  The rough seas hadn't done any real damage to the boat but a weld on the arch had broken which is a pretty minor repair.  Everything else was just a matter of cleaning up and organization.  We left the fuel dock and docked on D dock and quickly got organized to go to the airport to check the boat and ourselves into the USA.  The customs and immigration procedure was quick and painless and we were done about 6 pm.  We grabbed a cab and went to Wendy's for a proper american cheesburger and nuggets.  We caught a cab back to the marina and collapsed for the night.

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