As told by Marc Mills
What started out like any other day turned into a near-death situation come nighttime.
This all happened in July of 2011 on Long Island. I took a bunch of people that worked for me out bowling after work. I don’t know what time of night it was when we were done bowling, but we all decided to go for a boat ride. (I wasn’t drinking by the way, when you hear the rest of this story you’re going to think, “Oh this guy went bowling and then got in a boat, I see what happened,” but I was actually dead sober.)
My boat was brand new at the time, a Scarab 35 that could do 83 miles per hour all out. A few weeks after I bought her, I had her docked in the back of my house, and I noticed there was some hydraulic fluid leaking from the helm. So I had a technician come by and fix it, which, he said he did.
That night after bowling there were five of us on board, four guys and a girl. We were on the Great South Bay, in very familiar water, and it was dark, maybe 8 o’clock, but we had all our lights on so it felt safe. I wasn’t going to push her too hard in the dark anyway. So we were going maybe 30 mph tops. I took the boat around a marker, a turn I’ve made 1,000 times before. I turned the wheel slightly to get around the buoy, not a jerk reaction at all, just a gentle turn. And the steering turns all the way to the starboard side, no slowing down whatsoever, just a hard, hard right turn. We immediately start skidding sideways on the stepped hull. I had just enough time to drop it in neutral as fast as I could—thank God—but it was too late. I was holding on as tight as I could to the wheel and I just start seeing people go Thoom! Thoom! Thoom! flying by me off the boat and into the water. It was crazy. This wasn’t people falling overboard. They were airborne. Think about it. An 8,000-pound boat going 30 mph turning on a dime. They hit the gunwale and skipped a full 30 yards in the air. And some of these boys were big boys you know? They hit the gunwale so hard they left spider cracks. It was just insane. This happened in a split second. I was the last one to go over because at least I was holding on to something. But I couldn’t hold on forever. And I lost my grip and flew out of the boat and flipped three times in the air.
I hit the water and just covered my head and waited for the boat to land on top of me. The way I flew out and the way the boat was skidding I thought for sure that was gonna happen. But thankfully it didn’t. So I pop up out of the surface and see the boat skidding another 50 yards. I immediately started screaming everybody’s name to make sure they were OK. I’ll never forget treading water in the dark, waiting for people to shout back.
Floating an Important Idea
The people on this particular boat were incredibly lucky. No one hit their head, or was otherwise incapacitated, so when they hit the water they all, for the most part, were ok. But it could have been much worse. And that’s why wearing a PFD before disaster strikes is so important. As Marc Mills will tell you, bad things happen in the blink of an eye. So it’s best to be prepared for them before they do. Putting on a PFD, no matter how ungainly, may just save your life. And that’s a valuable lesson for any boater.
Thank God everybody did. One guy was in a full suit—jacket, nice shoes, the whole thing. He swam to the boat immediately. The girl in the boat at the time was my girlfriend, and she was in a full panic. The guy that was closest to her, my buddy Chas, he swam over to her and found she was tangled in a rope that had come off the boat. He unwrapped her and swam her over to a piling that was nearby. So she was safe. I swam over to the boat and got in and I go around and start picking people up. We get everybody in the boat, and somehow, against all conceivable odds, nobody’s hurt. We started heading to the dock, and everybody’s charged up. And I’ll never forget Chas sitting in the front of the boat on the ride home screaming at the top of his lungs, “Chas one! God nothin’!”
It was just a wild, wild night. The next day I bought five new cellphones, a new one for everybody on the boat. That’s the only thing we lost that day. But it could have been so much worse.
We found out later a plastic washer in the helm had cracked, and it allowed the power steering fluid to leak out, and that made the wheel not work correctly. And that one little thing almost killed all of us. Obviously it hadn’t been fixed properly by the technician. You know, I would have sued the hell out of him, but nobody got hurt so I didn’t think it was worth it. If everybody was safe, that was enough for me.
Marc Mills, 44, is a businessman on Long Island. His name and some of the other details in this story have been changed.
This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.