Our Boats and Us: Fire! Fire!
On patrol with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary in the Florida Panhandle.
By Capt. Bill Pike
Sometimes I feel like I’ve gone nuts-o. Who tries to revive a defunct old U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary flotilla at a time when paperwork, membership requirements, and other national-level aspects seem to be totally screwed up? A crazy person—that’s who!
Anyway, Flotilla 11’s still kickin’, although the Auxiliary at large and the Coast Guard itself continue to grapple with a demanding new boss, the Department of Homeland Security. I’m still kickin’, too: Flotilla 11’s fearless leader, “Commander Bill.” And so is my 23-foot Steiger Craft Chesapeake, the Scrumpy Vixen, which runs many of the safety, powerplant-security, and other patrols we do around here. I’ve owned the Scrump for seven years now—I bought her brand new without batting an eye. A brief account of a patrol we did this spring should illustrate why:
The story starts with a morning telephone call from the U.S. Coast Guard station in Panama City. A shrimp boat was on fire offshore, the officer said. A Mayday had been received. Survivors were in the water. Some probably burned. “Get there fast, Mr. Pike,” the guy said.
I made some calls myself. One was to Flotilla 11’s treasurer, a schoolteacher on holiday, Charlie Wilkinson; he said he was on the way. I also called our operations guy, retired security consultant Linc Barnett; he said he was on the way, too.
Out the door I went, headed down the dock for the Scrump, carrying a waterproof bag of first-aid equipment, a cooler full of bottled water, and a book, Advanced First Aid Afloat. Burn-related medical expertise in Flotilla 11 was nonexistent at the time, although we’ve since added an EMT.
I cranked the Scrump’s Mercury Optimax 200; despite reported difficulties with Optimax products, my motor starts and runs like a champ. Then I fired up my Garmin 2006 GPS plotter, activated a preprogrammed route down-river to the Gulf, and added a waypoint for the location of the shrimp boat 25 miles beyond. Barnett and Wilkinson arrived quickly and immediately began casting off lines as I backed free of the boathouse.
Once we were in the channel, I told Barnett, “Run ‘er out while I read this book, Linc. We'll likely have to deal with burn victims.”
In a heartbeat, we were zooming along at 35 mph—three guys bound for a dicey, open-ended situation. Moreover, conditions offshore were rough: Waves were averaging three feet, and the wind was blowing semi-wicked, according to my Standard Horizon VHF. Understandably, there was a little anxiety building onboard.
But the Scrump inspired confidence. Once we hit the gray scudding waters of the Gulf, she whizzed along with such steadfast determination and dispatch that the mood onboard loosened, turned optimistic. And why not? My boat’s as stout and seaworthy as a porpoise. She’s got a born-to-run hull form with a wave-chomping 19-degree transom deadrise; I’ve seen her handle eight-footers with the high-speed equanimity of a vessel twice her size. She’s got a gutsy, all-‘glass, foam-filled makeup; I once saw her cockpit-sole laminate stall a massive .44-caliber slug for demo purposes. And finally, she’s got an enclosed, watertight wheelhouse; I’ve been caught offshore in trashy weather often enough, but I’ve never been doused with spray.
The Scrump made the scene about an hour after I’d received the Coast Guard call. To the surprise and relief of all onboard, the shrimp boat was okay. The crew had managed to douse the fire and stay with their vessel, although they’d unfortunately failed to tell the Coast Guard or anybody else of this. We provided an escort into port for repairs.
“That was an amazing ride comin’ out here,” opined Barnett as we toodled along.
“I mean ta tell ya!” agreed Wilkinson, shaking his head.
“The Scrump’s a wild cat,” I replied, with pride. And indeed she is.
This article originally appeared in the November 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.