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Not Going Down with the Ship

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as told by Mary Hoff Benevento

sinking boat

Sometimes you don’t have to go down with the ship.

Seventeen years ago I was on a boat 30 miles out of Boca Grande. It was myself, my first husband, and two other couples, plus the captain on our 57-foot Ocean. And we were on our way to go grouper fishing. It took us a good hour to get out there, and we had had fun the night before so we were moving slow, you know? We were excited to fish, but it was just one of those mornings. 

Our captain at the time was an amazing guy and an excellent captain. When we first got that Ocean we were out in the middle of the water one day and he spotted something floating way off in the distance. It ended up being a bale of marijuana. So the guy’s got bona fide eagle’s eyes. And he is on top of things, always alert, doesn’t miss a thing. (We ended up calling the Coast Guard for that bale, by the way, I don’t own a bar called “The Square Grouper” or anything.)

But anyway we were out that day and about to drop the lines in, and just as we’re doing that the captain sees something floating in the water. Again! And so I’m thinking, more weed? 

But then he points out something about a half mile away, just a little white tip in the distance. I don’t know how he saw it. So we decided we’d go check it out because something looked off. So we hold off on dropping lines and motor over to see what we could see.

It ended up being the nose of a boat. Not only that, but there were two kids hanging onto it, probably in their early 20s. They had been spearfishing. It was a 27-foot center console, and it was almost totally below the water. A big wave had come, too big for that boat anyway. It was pretty rough that day. One guy had been topside, and one guy was in the head, and nobody saw the wave coming, and boop! all of a sudden everyone was in the drink and the boat was submerged. I can’t imagine what that feeling must have been like. So we picked them up and they got in the boat. And the first thing one of them said was, “I wasn’t going to start crying until it got dark.” They’d had none of the proper safety gear onboard. No signal ever went out, spooky stuff. 

But then they said they had two more buddies who were with them and they’d been overboard spearfishing when the boat capsized. They hadn’t stayed with the boat because they were afraid, with four guys clinging to it, it would sink. So they had cut a piece of anchor line and were hanging on to it to stick together, and now they were out there somewhere treading water. It sounded grim. 

We couldn’t see them from where we were, especially with the swells so big. So we started trolling around looking for them. That was pretty tense, I mean, it’s so tough to see people in the water out there. But miraculously, we found them pretty quickly. Everybody was elated, obviously. Pumped, grateful, just so happy. One of them had a newborn and he was afraid he was never going to see her again. So we get all four of them onboard. And us girls, of course, we’re fussing over them. Giving them beers and water and cigarettes and turkey sandwiches. Anything they wanted. It was a celebration. 

We realized we needed to get them home immediately. No fishing that day. The kids had been in the water for a couple hours. That’s a long time! So we turned around and headed back. We were all celebrating on the ride home, most of us anyway. After a little bit I realized that my first husband was in the saloon, more or less pouting. He was upset that he wasn’t going to get to fish. That’s part of the reason he’s now my ex-husband, by the way.

Fish or no fish, we just saved these guys’ lives! I mean, c’mon man, get some perspective! That was a real moment of clarity for me. We divorced shortly after. I can’t say that that was the one thing that broke the camel’s back by any means, but it was indicative of so much more that was going on with him. Anyway, he and I don’t stay in touch. I remarried later on to the man I’m still with today, the love of my life. And I look back on that day as the greatest day of fishing that never was.

Mary Benevento, 42, is a boater in Florida. That’s not her real name, and she doesn’t even really like grouper fishing.

This article originally appeared in the July 2015 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.