Unprepared for the intensity and weight of the water on board the boat floundered and I took another wave over the transom. At this point I knew the boat was going down, went up to the bow to grab a life preserver for me and Susie, the boat went down like a rock. I did not have two seconds to simply bend over and grab a vest out of the gunnel, the boat just disappeared into the sea. But, the bow was sticking out above the surface about two feet, and I thought to myself, all right she is going to float and I can hang onto the bow until a boat showed up and rescued me and Susie.
Susie was swimming in the six foot seas around and around the boat, as I had managed to grab a rope which was tied to the bow cleat, as all of a sudden my little Igloo cooler popped to the surface with some cans of water in it. I grabbed the cooler and tied the rope to it to have something to hang on too that would float. That was a mistake as I noticed the boat was going down fast I had just seconds to try to get it untied before the boat disappeared under the sea. It was just like the Titanic movie, the bow pointing up in the air, and the whooshing noise made as the air escaped from the cabin windows as she went down. I was able to loosen the knot just as she disappeared under the waves.
So here I am holding onto the bow rope, looking down to the bottom where the boat had settled upside down. Being upside down it made it impossible to dive down and get anything as there was no space between the boat and the bottom of the ocean. I hung onto the rope for about ten minutes, when I decided this was doing me no good as I was just wasting energy hanging on in the rough seas. Susie was doing OK as she is a good swimmer, and was swimming around me.
There was not a boat in sight as it was a rough day, unlike the weekends when there are lots of boats out and rescue would have been easier. Plus when it is that rough you cannot see very well as the waves are so tall. Every now and then a wave would pick me up and I could see the Marker at Davis Reef about a mile from me. Looking the other way I could see land. I decided upon swimming for land which is about five miles from where I was. I had no fins, mask, snorkel, nothing, just shorts and a Tee shirt on. Ever tried to swim in the ocean in six foot waves, with no equipment, not so easy.
I had one advantage though as the tide was coming in and would be high tide around 12 PM. For the first couple of hours Susie and I swam apart, as I was holding onto the cooler to stay afloat, she would swim with me. The current runs down the Keys, not toward shore, so the swim would be parallel to shore not towards it. I could here a diesel boat in the distance pulling lobster traps bit i did not know which way he was going, or I would have grabbed a trap and hung on until he showed up to pull the trap, but I did not like the 50-50 chance of him coming my way, so I kept swimming.
After about three hours in the water Susie was becoming tired and began trying to climb up on me to stay afloat. She weighs 65 pounds, and would try to put her paws around my neck and back paws around my stomach. This did not work as I could not keep her and I afloat with all her extra weight. I looped my arm through the cooler allowing her to put her two front paws on my arm that was looped through the cooler to keep her afloat. This left me with one arm to swim and two feet to kick with. Progress was slow but I was moving faster than the seaweed on the surface, which gave me hope. She soon figured out this plan and did real well hanging onto my arm, but in the process she had scratched and opened many cuts on my back, arms and legs. Well I was swimming in Hawks Channel which has a reputation of having the biggest and meanest sharks in the Keys, the man eating bull shark. I was bleeding like a stuck pig all over my body, the perfect shark bait. Plus there were many giant stinging jellyfish floating everywhere, which I had to avoid as multiple stings can paralyze you.
After about four hours in the water I could see I was making progress towards shore, but was nearing Snake Creek which is about six miles south of Tavernier creek where I had come out from. About that time I got hit by a big jellyfish on my left side, the pain was great, but the adrenaline was still flowing and I kind of ignored the pain. Susie was getting real bad by now, trying to put all four feet up on my arm to stay afloat. This caused the cooler to open up and flood, spilling the cans of water I had. I had to push Susie off, refloat the cooler, and save one can of water in case the tide changed and I was pushed offshore into the Gulf Stream. I didn't want to die of thirst if I could survive the swim. I held one can of water in the hand I had looped through the cooler.
At five hours in the water in those rough seas I was becoming real tired, and would only swim for short periods, holding onto the cooler with both hands, I did not make much progress but could save energy by hanging on with both hands. At this point Susie had white foamy stuff coming out her mouth and she was making desperate noises, looking at me with big scared brown eyes. I was not coming back to shore without my dog, so I had to keep her afloat to save her life.