Busted Running Gear and the Legend of Tommy McCoy

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Tommy McCoy and Jason Y. Wood

BAH-BAH-BAH BOOM.

Arawak shook and rumbled from her bones up. “Whoa, $hit,” exclaimed McCoy as he lunged for the throttles, throwing the boat into neutral. “We should have 4.6 feet of water.” 

And just like that, our leisurely 8-knot cruise from Naples to Lake Okeechobee was on a different tack. It was clear we hadn’t hit bottom but a shuddering starboard propeller made it clear that we definitely hit something. Deputy Editor Jason Wood and Capt. McCoy dove into the dirty brown water to assess the situation. It turns out that we ran over what we think was a submerged metal fish trap, which wrapped itself around our running gear. We’ll need to source a professional diver with metal-cutting tools to free the debris. 

Arawak at anchor

With only one engine, we limped up the Okeechobee Waterway at 5 knots, while thankful we had a new Vetus-Maxwell bow thruster installed, which provided control in tight situations. 

A Hinckley yachtThe long, slow slog up the narrow canal would take us past dilapidated old boats and trailers, and immaculate waterfront mansions alike. It really is an amazing cross-section of Florida, and only passing boaters get to see and enjoy it. 

Along the way, our crew has settled further into a comfortable routine; Digital Editor John Turner—always quick with his camera—rotates between shooting and editing gear reviews and capturing the onboard action as Jason and I work our way through product tests and time at the helm. 

Our fourth crewmember, Tommy McCoy continues to impress with his cool and charismatic demeanor. Besides releasing a few well-deserved f-bombs after we hit the trap, his glass-half-full personality returned almost immediately. “Well, we’ll burn less fuel running on one engine,” he offered just minutes after the trap incident. 

Standing beside him for a stretch at the helm we got to talking about rewarding boating memories. He went on to tell a story about a time he took five missionaries from the Midwest on a 65-foot Hatteras to Haiti after the earthquake. He navigated a severely seasick crew to the pirate-ridden disaster zone and delivered $10,000 of provisions to impoverished people there. Crazy stuff, right? I tell him how impressed I was with the story and he just shrugs his shoulders and with a tone that suggests it was no more impressive that picking up groceries he says, “Eh, it was a job, man.” 

He stayed fixed at the wheel—despite offers to relieve him—for most of the day. And it was a long 13-hour day. 

Jason Y. Wood

Darkness had fully enveloped the waterway by the time we finally dropped the hook and settled in for the night, just couple hundred feet west of the Ortona Locks. Hungry and tired the only request McCoy made all day was that we make a pasta dinner upon our arrival. As luck would have it just a couple minutes into heating a pot of water we ran out of propane. There would be no hot dinner.

By this point I was about ready to shoot flares, switch on the EPIRB, swim across the crocodile-filled canal and run the 20 miles to the closest Dominos (it was a long day, please don’t judge). McCoy just laughed and said, “It’s no problem, we have chips and we can make bologna sandwiches.” 

And that’s just what we did. We sat back, sipped rum drinks, feasted on bologna sandwiches and laughed until our remaining energy had finally been polished off. 

I don’t think I’ll ever look at packaged bologna (or Bacardi Limon!) the same way again. They’ll always remind me of a day when everything went wrong and I still had a blast. The power of positive thinking; I think that’s a lesson that Jason, JT, and I will remember for a long time. 

Drinks and snacks

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