Trip Through The Twilight Zone?

My family has always loved the water and any kind of boating. After years of water skiing and boating on midwest lakes and rivers, we decided to move up to larger boats and bigger waters. In the early 1990s we bought a 24 1/2 foot fly bridge cabin cruiser with a trailer and a 4WD Blazer to pull it. This was our travel trailer on land and our live aboard boat when we reached the Great Lakes or ocean.

We had been about everywhere over the years and had finally settled on the Florida Keys as our favorite destination. Once or twice a year we would pull our boat to a different location along the Keys to snorkel, dive and fish. In 1994 we found a little resort called Banana Bay on the Gulf side of Marathon. From here we could easily boat the Gulf or Atlantic side of the keys.

We launched our boat and reserved a slip for the week from a nice gentleman named Earl Light in the marina. Since this location was far from our central Illinois base, I programmed my LORAN to automatically find the strongest transmitting stations for the area.

As we cruised out of the marina, I punched the waypoint button to locate the coordinates of the entrance. We then used our charts to survey the area and locate a shipwreck about five miles north into the Gulf. The water was shallow and we had to navigate around a number of small islands, reefs and sand bars in the area. My boat had every safety feature and my oldest son and I had taken extensive safety training. My wife was apprehensive about going so far out into the Gulf but I assured her that we had charts, a LORAN to navigate, three depth finders, a radio, dual bilge pumps, a backup kicker motor, every piece of safety equipment and even a large bimini top to protect us from the sun.

The first hint of trouble soon appeared. While navigating through the reefs, my LORAN suddenly changed by one minute of latitude. This, of course, translates to one mile on the chart but on the other side of the reef. Not good. In the daylight, I could see the reef, but had it been dark this would be dangerous. I had no intention of boating in the dark but I had to figure out the problem before going out again.

I consulted other experienced boaters who lived on their boats in the marina. It seems that by letting my LORAN pick the strongest stations it did not pick the most accurate ones. The time signals from the strongest stations were coming in parallel to each other rather than perpendicular. They told me which stations to manually pick to give the most accurate locations. I programmed them into the LORAN and told my family that we would go out to the same wreck the next day and snorkel around it. I told my sons that local fishermen indicated that there were large barracuda around the wreck and large sharks had been known to travel along a nearby reef.

About noon I told Earl at the marina where we were going and that I would try to bring him a nice snapper for supper. We then headed out in good weather with a chance for an afternoon thunderstorm. This is the standard forecast for this area almost everyday in July. We arrived at the wreck and dropped anchor.

The water was clear and the wreck was alive with various fish including nice snappers and large barracuda. After a couple hours of snorkeling, I decided to get Earl his snapper and head back to the marina. I got out my spear gun, cocked it and dove down to select a nice fish. Every time I lined up a good shot, this large barracuda zoomed in front of me and scared away the snapper. After about the fourth time, I was getting tired and decided to shoot the barracuda if he did it again. Sure enough, he did it again. He was about 10 feet out and really out of range for my spear gun set on low power. I fired and hit him in the side. To my surprise the spear bounced off him and even more to my surprise he came straight at my face with his mouth wide open.

He turned away just inches from my mask. The display of teeth right in my face was quite a warning. I went to the surface to get another breath and recock my spear gun. This time I was going to pull the rubber back to the high power position. I braced the gun against my hip and pulled the rubber band back and hooked it to the second notch. As I was moving the gun away from my hip, the metal hook on the rubber band broke. I still had a tight grip on the rubber bands as the full tension shot the gun back into my chest.

The butt end of the handgrip cut a one inch gash all the way into one of my rib bones. With my gun broken and my chest bleeding it was time to give up and go in. We pulled up the anchor and headed back to the marina.

As the boat was reaching planing speed, the engine suddenly revved up as the boat slowed down. At first I thought that it had jumped out of gear. I looked over the back of the swim platform as my son carefully shifted it into gear. Everything looked OK so I climbed back up on the fly bridge and started out again. Once again the engine revved and the boat slowed. I shut down the engine, raised the outdrive and checked the propeller. The rubber bushing inside of the propeller was slipping. What to do now?

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