Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Log June 11 - 14, 1992 Written By Murray Vedel (not edited from original)

It all began on Thursday around 11:30. My wife, my next door neighbors, Jack and Jessie Blankenship, and  myself were heading down to Pensacola, Florida to stay with a hunting buddy of mine and Jack's, Joe Pope. It was to be a fishing trip in the Gulf of Mexico. Joe had a nice 20 foot, center console fishing boat with a 135 Hp. Mercury motor. Joe had called me some weeks before and told me that Jack and I should come down while the fish were biting. After a little planning with our wives, we were all set and ready to go. We met Joe at his place of business on Thursday evening and gave us directions how to get to his house. In about an hour, we pulled up to a nice house -- sitting on the intercoastal waterway.

We walked around the front gate and there was the boat, sitting right at the back door, ready to go -- boy, how nice. Jack and Jessie came down to greet us. they had gotten there about an hour before us. After looking the place over and talking about the trip down, it wasn't long before Joe came home from work. We decided to go for some sea food. There was a nice place about 1 mile from Joe's house.We had a great meal, danced to a good country band, and went home to get some rest before an early rising Friday morning fishing trip. We got up about 4 AM. I told everyone I would wake them up, but my alarm watch didn't work or I didn't hear it, and Joe had to wake me up.

For some reason my wife and Jack's wife Jessie did not get up and cook us a good breakfast. Anyway, Jack and I got the live bait we had caught in the traps we had baited Thursday afternoon. Joe got all the fishing rods and connected up the electronic equipment and we were ready to go. We left around 5:15AM and headed down the intercoastal waterway to Perdido Pass. it's actually in Gulf Shores, Alabama but Joe lives in Florida. The Pass was real calm and we had a smooth ride out, about 2 miles. Joe said: 'lets try this spot, we caught some fish here last week'. We fished for about an hour and caught a few Mingo, but it was too slow for Joe and he said: 'reel 'em in, we're headed out for another spot'.

Well, the other spot was about 10 miles out, where the state had dumped part of the old bridge that was torn down about a year ago. When we reached our destination, Joe checked the electronic fish finder and put out a buoy marker so we would know when we were close to the structure where the fish congregate. It seemed like every time Jack or I would let our line down or one of the rods we had in the rod holders on the boat, baited with live bait would hardly be out but a minute and there would be a fish on. We caught two at a time on some occasions. We told our wives we would be back around 11 AM, but we were catching so many fish, even the little ones that did not measure up to size, we were still having a ball.

Joe had put the anchor down and we must have caught 15 or 20 Mingo, Snapper, Kinger Mackerel, and Amberjack in this one spot. Joe said: 'let down one more time and we'll had in'. Jack nor I disagreed. We got back in around 2:30 and the wives said: 'well, y'all are late, must have really caught a bunch'. When we started unloading the fish box thry saw we were really hauling in the fish. Jack and I started cleaning fish. After about 2 hours of cleaning our catch, we decided to go to a little place in Gulf Shores that has the best seafood Gumbo.

Joe decided to take a nap. After having our fine late lunch of Gumbo and boiled shrimp, we rode around Gulf Shores to some of the restaurants we had eaten in the past. We also road around to some of the Mansions before coming back to Joe's house. After sitting around and enjoying the beautiful site Joe has overlooking the bay, we decided to cook some of our catch. We went to the store and got some goodies to marinate the fish and Jessie fixed a delicious spinach salad. Joe had to work on Saturday, so Jack and Jessie and Delores and myself went to breakfast. We had our stomach filled with pancakes and decided to ride around.

We bought Lotto tickets but no one has won yet. We called Gary Weekly and Betty his wife, and we were all going to get together Saturday night at Joe's house. After Joe got home, we discussed what we were going to eat.. Well after all the seafood, we decided to get some steaks and cook them on the grill. Boy, did we cook up a delicious meal! After supper we looked at the Radar on the Weather Channel and the weather looked perfect for a quick early morning fishing trip. Jack and I had planned on leaving to come home around 10 or 11 just so we would get home before dark. Gary, Jack, Joe and I decided we would get up around 4 AM and run out 2 or 3 miles and catch a mess of fish and come back around 9:30 or 10.

Delores and Jessie could have us packed up and ready to head home. We got up around 4AM, had a couple of cups of coffee and headed out. When we got out of the intercoastal waterway and out into the pass, we noticed at least 3 to 5 foot seas. We ran out about 2 or 3 miles, the sea was rough, the boat did a lots of hard bouncing. We stopped a minute to let some water come back in the live well.  Then Joe said:  'why don't we run on out 12 miles to same place we caught all the fish Friday?' Everyone agreed and we took off. We got to our destination and put out a buoy. We started catching fish immediately. It must have been 6:45 when we started fishing.

Gary had a couple of big fish on and after about 10 minutes reeling up, the line would break. Jack and I caught some Kings and some Mingo and some Snapper that were too small to keep. We were so busy catching fish we failed to notice the live well overflowing until I caught a big King Mackerel and Joe gaffed the fish and brought him in the boat.  I got down on the knees to take the hook out of his mouth and noticed my knees were under water. I told Joe we were taking on a lots of water. Joe said: 'pull the fish box out and see if the plug in in or see if you can see anything wrong'. When we pulled out the box, the whole back end of the boat was full of water.

There was a 1/2 inch hose off squirting water in the boat. I told Joe there's a hose squirting water in the boat. he said see if you can see where it goes. I tried to look under the back cover where the live well was, and a wave of water hit me in the face. I got choked and thought to myself we're going to sink. I ran to the front of the boat to get the life jackets. Joe cut the engine and tried to call Mayday on the VHF radio. The batteries were too far under water to send a signal. Gary had a .45 Auto pistol and began firing it up in the air in hopes one of the boats that were nearby may hear us.

I got the life jackets out, got Jack snapped into his, threw Gary and Joe one, and noticed Jack had a line off a rod joe was using to catch bait fish stuck in his shirt. By that time (and it was a little time), the boat went down in the back and we all jumped out in the water. The boat rolled 180 degrees and about 3 1/2 or 4ft. of the front hull was floating. We all swam to the boat and hung on for dear life. Joe and Gary got on the back where the motor was sticking up. The prop was up and sharp. Gary cut his ankle trying to get a secure place to stay.

Jack and I were on the front part, holding on to our life line, a blue bow rope. I could not believe this could have happened so fast. I finally managed to crawl up on the hull that was sticking out of the water. Jack managed to get his legs on the bow rail  that was under water now. of course we looked for boats and there were none close enough to see us. The waves were too high. I had a Red hat on and began to wave it with one hand and hold the rope with the other. The boat was rocking to the left and to the right. I was trying to balance it to keep it steady.

I was afraid it may rock up on one side or the other, and if there was a pocket of air that was keeping the boat afloat, I did not want water to fill this air pocket up and cause the boat to sink. At one point I remember Gary slid off the back part of the boat bottom he was trying to sit on and the current was so strong he had a hard time swimming back to the boat. As he got Joe's hand and Joe tried to pull him in to get on the little part of the boat that was floating, he cut his leg on the stainless steel propeller that was sticking up.

Finally he got to a place on the bottom of the boat he could sit on and tried to be as still as possible. Jack was holding the rope on the bow, but was having to take every wave in the face as the seas seemed to get worse. We began to see some boats coming out to fish from Gulf Shores Pass. We all were optimistic one of these boats would surely see us and pick us up. As he boats got closer, myself, Joe Gary and Jack would wave our arms and my red hat, but the boats just seemed to turn and way and go away! We talked about hunting seasons thru the past, how much fun we had.

I guess we were all wondering if we would ever get to hunt again. I remember looking around us and seeing dead fish we had caught floating nearby. I remember Gary saying, 'wonder when we are going to wake up from this bad dream?'. I prayed every three or four seconds - I saw Jack pray about as much as I was. I also noticed, after about 2 hours of drifting, I could stand up and could not see any buildings in Gulf Shores, so I knew we were drifting out further. I started thinking about my wife, how much I loved her, and about the place we had rented on the river and she had enjoyed going fishing. I figured that was over with.

I thought about my two grandchildren that I haven't got to see that much, because my oldest son and his wife are stationed in England. One day I was hoping they would be near and we could spend lots of time together.  That was fading fast. I remember Gary saying, 'boys, we may give in but we will never give up'. We began talking about when our wives might report us missing to the Coast Guard. We had told them Friday we would be in around 11 AM and we came in around 2PM. Our reason was we were catching fish and couldn't stop.

We felt like they would say wellthey will be in late, like Friday. We figured they would start getting worried about 3 o'clock and probably call the Coast Guard around 4 PM. No one commented on whether we could last that long. I remember looking at Jack's hand clutching the bow rope, shaking uncontrollably and asking him if he's OK and he said I OK. The he would begin to pray.

I remember thinking about all the work at the lab I had to get out Monday and what my brother would do without me. Gary lost his balance and slid off the bottom of the boat and began floating away. He finally swam back to the back of the submerged boat and Joe caught his hand and pulled him in. I saw how swift the current was.

There were some boats headed our way. I could see them from a long way off. Every time they would get near, I would stand up and wave my red hat. It seemed like every time a boat would get close enough to see us, I would wave my red hat and they would go the other way. What I didn't know was the distress signal, when you're in the water, is to wave both arms. I was waving the boats away.

They thought we were in skin divers and with the 5 foot seas on, couldn't tell the boat was upside down. I would pray for the Lord to please send a boat to pick us up and when I opened my eyes, I'd see Jack praying too.  No one said the word "shark" -- I know everyone thought about them. I remember Joe saying he saw some pilot fish down deep. Pilot fish love to hand around sharks.

We were in the bait shop Saturday. I was buying my wife a pair of gloves that hold fish with, and I heard a man telling this lady about a 12 foot shark someone had caught near the Pass righ where we came out. I believe the reason we saw no sharks is because of the rough water. I remember Gary gave me a telephone credit card: it had a reflecting part on the back so I could try to flash it towards any boat we might see.

After about 10:30 or 11 o'clock we hadn't seen a boat for I guess an hour. I looked to the north, towards where land was supposed to be, and saw a little white circle. I told the boys, 'I don't want to get your hopes up but I see a boat coming this way'. I told Jack, let's start praying. And as we prayed I would open one eye and look to see if the boat was coming our way. I said to Jack, 'keep praying he's still coming this way. After about 10 minutes of steady praying, Jack said, 'that's the boat the Lord sent to pick us up'.

I would pray and look: sure enough that boat was coming as straight to us as an arrow. Then all of a sudden he stopped probably 100 yards from us, directly in the east, 'cause the sun was shining in the background. I said to myself, I know it's going to be just like the rest of the boats have done; he will fish awhile and pull away. I said, 'everybody wave and try and get their attention!' I whistled and waved my red hat.

Jack said, with him being a big Auburn supporter, 'if that boat sees that red hat, I'll buy an Alabama had tomorrow and wear it!' I said: 'Jack, don't foget what you just said!'

I whistled so much that my mouth got so dry I couldn't swallow. Finally I saw the sihouette of a person climbing up the tower that big boat. And I said, 'there is someone climbing the tower, boys. If the he looks this way he will be able to see the bottom of the boat'.

All of a sudden the most beautiful sight I have ever seen, and the most beautiful sound I have ever heard was the engine of that boat revving up and the beautiful boat turned to the west, coming to pick us up! You talk about thanking the Lord Jesus Christ; we were yelling thanks to the Lord so loud I know he heard us all the way up in heaven.


The next time I saw my father (Jack), he was wearing an Alabama football hat like the one above and he wore it for a year ... (I think he burned it after that, but regardless .... thank you Murray....)

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