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No Day at the Beach

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By Lisa Almeida as told to Kevin Koenig

Storm at sea

The second you think nothing else could go wrong, is the second it does. One boater learned that the hard way, not that she’s any worse for the wear.

People don’t usually think of 56-year-old women as being boaters. But hey, nobody ever thinks I’m 56 either, so who cares? I was born into boating. My parents were professional waterskiers and when I popped out, my mom, being a feisty Italian woman, was like “just because we got a baby now doesn’t mean we’re gonna stop.” So they’d strap me to the boat as an infant and away we’d go.

Boating became a lifelong love for me. I’ve had my own boat since I was 24. I called up my dad one day and was like “Hey dad, I found a boat I’m gonna buy.” And he was like “Well, y’know I don’t think that’s such a great idea. You’re a single woman on your own …” and so on and so on. But I called him up two days later and said “I bought a boat!” And being my dad he was like “Alright, we better get her in good condition for you.” This is all to say, I’ve spent a lot, I mean a lot, of time on the water. But one day I’ll never forget happened in July 2012. A bunch of friends and I had rafted up on Fort George Island off of Jacksonville. You could say we’re veterans at doing that, most of us anyway, we do it all the time. It’s a beautiful little place to be, we play a lot of cornhole on the beach [Ed. note: It’s a beer-in-hand game played with beanbags guys, get your head out of the gutter], it’s just great. 

But this day there was one guy with us—a good guy, but not a regular—who decided he was going to pull out of the raft-up without really telling anyone. We usually do it in an orderly fashion because the current there is no joke. His boat was to starboard of mine, and when he pulled out, my boat broke loose. And just like that, not only were we drifting in the current, but our anchor line tangled with the boat to my port. And the two of us, the two boats, just go tumbling along with this current. Which wouldn’t be all that bad, except when I go to turn on my engines to get some control over the situation, my starboard engine won’t turn over. And of course, that knocked out my power steering too. Oh did I mention there was a storm coming? There was a storm coming. It came out of nowhere, like they do in Florida. Lightning popping, thunder booming, and the wind and the rain. We’re shouting back and forth between the boats trying to hear each other as we’re just ripping through the water. It was chaos. 

My friend Christina was onboard with me, and she’s over on the side of the boat trying to wedge a fender in between the boats so we don’t bang each other up, and one second she’s there, and the next second boop! Overboard. And there goes Christina bobbing away with this current.

There was nothing I could do for her, but I saw this rinky little 10-foot boat with these guys on it over on the beach, and I shout to them that my friend was in the water. But they didn’t even need me to yell, they saw we were in trouble and they were moving to go get her before I even opened my mouth. So they zip out and grab her and bring her over to my boat, which was great, but guess what? I’ve still got no power and am in the current, tied to another boat, in a storm.

In the end we had to cut the anchor line. Bye-bye anchor! I had to drop my stern anchor to hold us while I called sea tow. But I knew that wouldn’t work, because I could see all these other boats broken down around me. It was just a weird day like that out on the water. 

Sure enough Sea Tow tells me I’m fourth in line and it’s going to take a while to help me out. And I told them well listen, if you don’t get me out of here when the tide is high, I’m not getting out of here tonight, because the water was so shallow where we were. So kindly enough they towed me over to this nearby marina my friends told me about (my phone was ringing nonstop from the guys I’d been rafted up with).

As Lisa Almeida will tell you, you never know what’s going to happen during a day on the water. Was there anything you would have done differently if you were in her shoes?
Let us know in the comments below.

We dock and my friends Justin, Shawn, and Jim show up by car, and somehow they got the engine fixed. By now it’s 8:30 at night on a Sunday, and I’m still in my bathing suit, and I just want to go home. So Justin stays onboard with me to make sure I get home okay, and off we go. 

On the way, I go down below to tidy up a little and pack up my things when all of the sudden I hear Justin banging on the cabin door. And I’ve just about had it at this point. I shouted up to him “Now what?!” I mean what else could possibly go wrong? And Justin was just like, “Hey, Shawn and Jim are calling, you want to go over to the landing to get some dinner?” And me and Christina, we looked at each other, tired, wet, Sunday night, y’know, and we’re just like “Ahh sure, we’re game. Let’s go get some food.” I don’t know how late we stayed out that night, but it was late. We had some celebrating to do.

But that’s what I love about boating. The second you shove off from the dock there’s no telling what could happen, and you’ve just got to be willing to roll with the punches. And also, everybody out there on the water—my friends who came and met me at the marina, Sea Tow, Christina, the guys in that little boat who scooped Christina up—we’re all in it together and everybody helps each other out. It’s a real community, y’know? That’s what makes boating so special to me.

Lisa “The Boatanista” Almeida lives and boats in Jacksonville, Florida. She owns a 30-foot Sea Ray and a 21-foot bowrider, because according to her, “one boat is just never enough.”