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January 2004 Vol. 19, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Drifting the Night Away

from the January, 2004 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

In September, Raymond Gill and seven friends decided to go diving off Miami. It wasn't a great day for boating, with winds to 20 knots and seas running 5 to 7 feet. Still, the 1989 23-foot Seacraft was a capable boat. After the dive, about 3:30 p.m., they surfaced to a capsized boat. Two women left topside were drifting off, screaming and clinging to a cooler. They all gathered next to the bobbing hull to assess the situation. Their cell phones were gone. Their marine radio didn't work in the first place. So they gathered everything that would float -- coolers, life jackets, buoyancy vests -- and, with the tide moving in, they cut the anchor, hoping to drift to shore.

But with darkness came cold. Then the boat stopped moving, seemingly hooked to something below. Scared about surviving the night clinging to the slippery hull, they decided to swim for it -- aiming for the lighthouse silhouetted by the lights of downtown Miami at least six miles away. The strongest swimmers took turns pulling the others, Gill told the Miami Herald. They tried to stay positive, but emotions swung wildly during the night, Gill said. At one point, Gill spotted a channel marker to gauge progress. An hour later, they had barely made headway. The mood shifted with the current.

"We got really frustrated in the middle of the night when we got stuck in the current," he said. After some squabbling, they set out for Stiltsville in North Biscayne Bay -- closer but nearly invisible in the darkness. "Luckily," said Gill, "we've been out there and knew where we were." They made it at 5 a.m., broke a window in a house, drank some bottled water stored inside, and slept until dawn. They flagged a nearby boat around 9:30 a.m., none the worse for wear.

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