Maikel's Miami River Rescue
Before taking off for the Bahamas, I was presented with a major boat task - replace Mystique’s missing starboard propellor. During a recent trip on my 40' catamaran near Key Largo, Florida, a submerged buoy had knocked the prop off its shaft.
After Maikel attempted to replace the prop underwater when a bolt sheared off, the only solution was to attach a new prop “on the hard” - a haul-out at a boatyard. After calling 8-10 yards that could accommodate a 40' catamaran, we finally found Jones' Boatyard, but it posed another challenge. Located almost 4 miles - that's 12 bridges up the Miami River, Jones was the only one with some availability, the furthest upriver Miami boatyard and the least expensive for that same reason. So, when I asked Gus and Maikel to accompany me upriver, both readily agreed.
Catching the incoming tide would be crucial to our journey, but judging speed, time and distance on a conveyor belt can be tricky. If you have ever walked through an airport, there's a good chance you may have stepped upon a walker's conveyer belt. You might recall the unusual sensations of moving without exerting any energy. The getting on and off the moving belt takes some timing. Basically it's not an altogether familiar sensation to walk on moving ground or even stand still while moving. Interestly most of us do it every day as our Earth is constantly revolving around the sun but we don't have that sensation of holding onto a spinning top.
Negotiating tidal current while similar can be much more harrowing than walking through an airport, especially if your vessel loses steerage and power in its midst. If and when a boat turns sideways to the water flow, it's often too late to regain control. It's when harrowing turns to harried. There is not much a skipper can do when a river grabs his vesselexcept surrender to the flow. But it is amazing how a closed draw bridge looming ahead acts as another motivating force. This scenario in January 2017 as I moved Mystique to the mouth of the Miami.
The Brickell Bridge, the first of 12 Miami bridges, wasn't opening fast enough and the flooding tide was running rapidly upriver. With only one engine, Mystique was handicapped in simply waiting in one placed for a delayed opening. Try to envision holding your position on a conveyor belt - something like running in place on a treadmill - going nowhere fast. And theno add to your image - Mystique is suddenly moving sideways towards a solid-looking bridge and a cement seawall maybe 100 feet away.
As soon as I realized the situation, I gave full throttle to the port engine, but it only seemed to turn the boat more sideways and to delay three inevitable crashes...a bow seawall smash followed by a stern-first demolition of my inflatable hanging dinghy and then a spectacular bridge demasting would soon follow. Mother Nature would surely flex its mighty muscle.
It didn't take rocket science to recognize we were getting sucked in towards an unforgiving wall and bridge. As we recognized we were trapped at the Brickell Bridge, Gus rushed to the bow preparing the impossible task of fending off. We only had mere moments. But sometimes when one gets trapped between a rock and hard place....miracles somehow happen - not just in movies - a heroic effort comes out of nowhere.
Arriving seconds before certain, expensive boat damage, Maikel somehow zipped and slipped his small craft around Mystique into place as if using his inflatable as a balloon wedge between "a rock and a hard place." He positioned his 10-foot inflatable dinghy at the contact point where an wall and boat would become intimate. He recognized the dire situation immediately, and saved Mystique's starboard hull and he pushed the hull around so Mystique was heading into the current and could now turn away from the wall. The bridge was finally beginning to open and by the time we turned we had maybe 30 yards to the uplifting span.
Even any Hollywood movie set could not have been scripted this last second rescue any better. I almost did not observe him skirt by as I was just about to close my eyes for the crunch. That was how close Gus and I were to bow-butting the concrete slab near Miami River's Brickell Bridge. If it were not for Maikel's quick reflexes and assessment of the impending crash, Mystique would have been motoring to a haul-out for more than a propellor replacement and bottom-cleaning.
Mystique did not have a second to spare; she was being sucked sideways into the Miami River with a stiff adverse flooding current and a hard, unforgiving breakwater a few yards away. Mystique was almost pinned up against a seawall when Mike arrived and placed his 10 foot inflatable between Mystique and a sure collision with a solid concrete shore embankment. Like a well-placed fender, his inflatable acted as a cushion that kept Mystiques' starboard bow from sustaining a scratch.
When Odysseus attempted to return home from Troy, he decided to knew he had to confront Scylla and Charybdis - a whirlpool and a 6-headed monster. His decision was where the expressions such as "on the horns of a dilemma", "between the devil and the deep blue sea", and "between a rock and a hard place" are derived from. His decision cost the lives of six men, but saved his ship....temporarily!
If life allows retakes I would have surely avoided this mistake in judgment. But it too had many lessons: more respect for tidal current around bridges; waiting for assistance before venturing too far; anticipating one engine's maneuvering limitations when in current were the ones that came to mind immediately.
It was too close to call the lesson a "close call", a "narrow escape" or a "near miss". It was definitely a "narrow escape". No matter what label or title I place on this adventure, life never stops providing powerful, vital and essential learning if I pay attention.