In his late twenties, my husband’s occupation was working on a 250 ft. workboat as an offshore surveyor in the Gulf of Mexico, staking out a pipeline for a jackup rig. This is his story …
“It was a fairly nice day, the weather was comfortable. In those days, I was wearing shorts and flip-flops. I had on a heavy belt with my big 7-inch sheath knife. It was early evening, the sun still out. We had to lift anchor and head on out. The jackup rig was coming in and we needed to get the buoys made up and dropped on the pipeline. After about an hour, I had all my buoys made and the boat headed on out for miles, running around getting ready to make our run into the platform.”
“Now, the ship has to get real close to the platform, make a sharp turn, then line up on the pipeline and start dropping the buoys where the pipeline is supposed to be.”
“So, I’m standing there on the back deck, everything is going good, and my buoys are all made with the rope trailing in the water.”
“I’m just kind of walking around with nothing to do, so I start to clean up. I throw scrapped rope off … tin cans … I’m just cleaning up the back of the deck. There’s this empty spool that usually has rope on it. I lift the spool and hoist it over the deck and immediately think, Oh, no! I run to the back of the deck because I got my ropes on the buoys trailing on the water. I reach the edge of the boat and I’m watching that spool get caught on the rope. It’s like slamming on the brakes. My anchor shoots like a bullet right off the deck! And where I had it positioned, the buoy comes flying around and hits me from behind and just knocks me right off the back-end of the boat into the water.”
“The first thing I figure out is that you can’t swim with flip-flops! I kick those suckers off!. I’m down under and freaking out, and just as I come on up, by instinct I start swimming for the boat. Now the boat’s doing 20 knots. There’s no way on God’s green earth I’ll ever catch it! And I immediately stop. I feel something and look around and realize I am inside the other buoy line! That thing can wrap me up and take me right under! I dive back down real quick and swim off to the side and come back up again. Then I start yelling for the boat … like they can hear me. Because of the engine noise alone they can’t hear me. They also got all the pumps on in the back deck going as well. Nobody standing on the deck can hear me if they’re looking at me.”
“I’m paddling my arms along and wondering, What the heck do I do now? I’m looking around and see the buoy that knocked me over. Now the cane pole on the buoy is broken; the flag is down in the water with the light bulb thingy. So I swim for it and grab a hold of the thing, but it really isn’t enough to keep me up. It helps to keep me buoyant, but it doesn’t really float me. I kind of hang onto it while lightly paddling to keep up. After a while I’m sitting there, watching the boat heading off into the distance … heading off … heading off. Now I can see the platform from where I’m at. I see the boat get right up to that big old platform and I think, Okay, right about now they’re going to make the turn. The boat turns and I think, Right about there, I’m suppose to drop a buoy. I’m watching and the boat makes another turn and then I think, Right about now, I should be dropping another buoy. And then, Right about now they’re going to realize something might be wrong! Then the lights come on in the boat! The spotlight is on, the boat makes a sharp turn heading back on around.”
“All during this time, party chief Mike, is running through the boat, first going straight to my bunk, thinking I’ve fallen asleep through the whole thing. He then heads for the bathrooms, and starts to panic. I’m told that Mike is going absolutely crazy; everybody is searching for me! The first thing that popped into their minds is that I had dropped a buoy, but had gotten wrapped up in it and went down with it – that’s what they thought. Now I can see the boat way off in the distance. As it comes on around to the platform, they start dropping the divers over searching for me, fearing I’m tied up in the buoy some place down below. I’m sitting there all the while thinking, Hello. Hello guys. I can’t get that flag back up, because it broke about 3 or 4 feet above me, so I can’t really reach it to get it up. I’m thinking about breaking it while I’m paddling and then it dawned on me, There’s a counterweight on this thing!”
“I dive down but can’t get the thing broke off. I’m chewing on the tape to try to get it to tear and finally got it torn. The counterweight drops away and I swim back up. The buoy lies flat but it’s holding me up now. I was finally able to rest and hang onto it. I’m looking at the platform and was reaching for my knife to cut the rope lose and then I realize, My knife is gone! Apparently, the buoy hooked my knife when I got knocked off and ripped it right off my belt. So I’m sitting there trying to untie this thing. I’m working at it and working at it, and I could not get that thing untied! (I make a mean buoy.) It’s polypropylene, so there’s no chewing through a thing like that; it’s just really tough stuff. I finally give up on that (which is actually a good thing because God is good, I had lost my knife, and that I make a mean buoy). If I had cut that rope, and tried swimming to the platform, I’d have never made it. The current was going the other way – two, three miles away. I would have never made it. I’d had just gone with the current and would have been long gone. No telling if and when they would have found me.”
“I’m trap here; I’m not going any place. It’s getting dark and I’m thinking, Man! They’re never going to find me! And then it hits me, I have a light here blinking and a flag! So I reach over–I can finally grab the broken part and actually hold it up out of the water–and now I’m siting there waving it around. You know, miles away it’s really hard to notice a flag. I then see some of the other boats on the platform untie; running around and racing off down the south of the platform, just going in different directions. I’m thinking, What the heck are those guys doing? It turns out they were chasing all the little glow in the dark things I had thrown over the side ! So they’d see a speck of light out there and just head straight for it.”
“Finally, somebody spots my little itty-bity light off in the distance and heads towards me. I see my ship and a crew boat coming. My ship is heading for me on my right, and a little crew boat–maybe a 75 footer–very low on the water–heading for me off to my left. They’re coming at me and then I thought, Okay, now is when a SHARK shows up! I’m sitting there hanging on, waving my flag and they’re coming up. One of the guys has one of those big liferings.”
“Now you have to remember, this is a big boat. The bow of that thing is way the heck up there. I mean, it’s 15 feet or more, so there’s no way I’m crawling up there. I have to be able to come up the back or something. Anyway, one of the guys has this ring and he yells, “‘Mark, here, catch this!'” He flings it out, and it goes boing! and just stops cold and swings down; it doesn’t even touch the water. I put my arms out and I’m like ‘hello?‘ I then turn to swim for the crewboat because it’s so low in the water that I just climbed right up. The guys give me some drinking water and then transport me back to the other boat. It’s late on into the evening when I am finally rescued. I was in that gulf for 6-7 hours before they found me.”
And so the moral of the story is…?
“I always carried three knives after that!”
Gotta love him.
Here’s to my wild and crazy, adventurous husband who was lost at sea for nearly 7 hours. He conquered fear–void of encountering any sharks–and remained of sound mind in the midst of danger. Thank God, he didn’t drown and had lost that knife, or he would have tried to swim and then been carried away with the current.
Happy Birthday, babe. You’re the cutest shark bait that I know. And I’m so glad God saved you for me.
I love you.
© M.A. Pérez, 2015, All Rights Reserved