Sunday, March 23, 2008

Nine Lives, Luck and Stupidity

We all meet with crises during our lifetime and I'm no exception.

At 8 years of age I was in a head-on car collision that left me with a broken leg. After going to the hospital, having it set and placed in a really heavy cast, I returned home. After a couple of days I experienced excruciating abdominal pains. I was rushed to the hospital where they performed emergency surgery removing my appendix before it burst. It was removed in time and all I was left with was a rather ugly scar.

At about 10, I came down with pneumonia and was a very sick girl in the hospital for a week.

At about 21 years of age I was in the middle of a 9 car pile up on the interstate in Minnesota. There were 4 passengers in my car and thankfully no one was injured.

At 22 I was pregnant and due to a fast delivery, I had my baby at home. This was not a real crises as there were no complications although I would not recommend this type of delivery to any expectant mother. Mother and daughter were fine and were taken to the hospital.

I coasted along for many years after that without any major incidents.

However, in 1998 (after moving to Guanaja the previous year) I, and the people of the island, went through one of the greatest hurricanes of all time - Mitch. It was a category 5 hurricane which sat over the island for 3 days unleashing its fury. Fortunately, again, my husband and I were unharmed and manage only loss of property.

I once ran out of gas in my boat while coming home from a friends home and while not wanting to drift off to Belize, I jumped in the water and pushed the boat along its side towards land. I managed to reach a dock, tie the boat and walk over the mountain to my friend's house to use her phone!

While on the island, these past 11 years, I have fallen off our boat twice (both times while attempting to step onto the dock when we were docking).

Boats, as any vehicle powered by an engine are dangerous and, I HATE BOATS. Not so much for the danger they present, but the fact that they are uncomfortable to ride in, one always arrives at their destination slightly wet, they are cold when one is out in the elements, they take a lot of preparation just to leave the dock, and there are no brakes! Well, there is reverse which substitutes for brakes.

Saturday, March 22nd I lost another one of my nine lives! I went to town early in the morning to buy groceries. This being Easter Week, the stores were closed on Friday, our normal shopping day, and were only open for 1/2 day on Saturday. I needed some basic items so off I went. It was cloudy out and had been raining, so I had my raincoat on. Before I left the house I emptied my purse of most of its items because I just did not want to carry that much weight. I would have put my billfold in my jacket pocket, but it was too bulky.

I arrived in town, made my various purchases and, like a pack mule, carried all the items back to the boat. I headed for home. It was windy and just as I reached the point of the backside of Alcatraz (the small Cay where we buy gas and propane), I noted my jacket starting to fly off the right side of my body. Now what happened next is a little blurry, but I will try to state it as accurately as possible.

I was going at a good speed (not wide open) and I, foolishly, took my hand off the tiller to pull my jacket back on, not thinking of the consequences. Once the tiller was released, the thrust of the boat going forward forced, I believe, the engine to make a sharp left turn. All I can remember is the boat suddenly lurching violently to one side. In an instant I experienced the feeling of not being in control of my body along with a lot of fear. I was pitched into the water by the sharp turn and the minute I hit all I could think about was "where is the propeller?" I came back up to see the boat going away from me and making for open sea. For some reason, the crate we have in the boat as an extra seat and my purse were in the water. I spied my purse and grabbed it immediately as even though there was not a lot in there, I had important papers along with credit cards!

I immediately started swimming to the Cay of Alcatraz, all the while watching my boat starting to make a big circle and heading back my way. It went around and then made for the Cay of Bonacca. I was terrified that the boat would hit someone, another boat, the main dock, or a piling of one of the houses on the edge of the Cay. There was absolutely nothing I could do but watch this crazy unmanned boat, head off to potential destruction.

As the boat reached the Cay, it veered off and started another crazy circle. It made another pass at the Cay and then, in a third circle, headed towards town but now was in a small channel heading towards Pond Cay. It hit a shallow spot and you could hear the engine kick up slightly and then resume its forward thrust. The only saving grace in this moment was the fact that now the engine had been pushed into making a tight circle and it circled madly around and around. The upside was that it was doing so in an area where no one or anything could have been harmed.

By this time there were 3 boats in the water. One headed towards me to pick me up; the other two were attempting to stop my boat. The boat heading for me reached me and I struggled to get on board. They asked if I was alright and I said, basically, yes. I pointed over to my boat and said "that's my boat." The man in the boat said he had seen me thrown out of my boat and took off immediately to help.

We watched the other two boats carefully circle my wildly circling boat in an attempt to either trap it between the two rescue boats or board it. Finally, with the right timing, one boat got to the front of my boat and the man on the front stepped over into my boat and turned the engine off.

I was taken over to my boat with everyone asking if I was OK. I thanked them all and assured them that for some reason, I had not been injured. I climbed back in my boat and headed home.

I was very, very lucky that day. I could have been hit in the head by the boat and drowned, or the prop could have hit my body and cut me badly; the boat could have hit another boat causing great injury or it could have hit a dock or a piling of a house and, again, caused damage.

So, it looks like, due to stupidity, I have lost another of my nine lives. I got home, emptied my purse and laid out its contents to dry, took a shower, rinsed out my clothing and various other items and unloaded my groceries.

P.S. I told my husband I didn't want to drive the boat anymore!


  1. O-M-G!!! Well, well.... Sounds like an EXCITING experience, Sharon! Did the groceries get delivered? HA-HA. I think you should talk to Mike about adjusting the "trim tab" under the cavitation plate and maybe hooking up the kill switch lanyard to your belt loop!! THANK GOODNESS you were not hurt and lived to tell the tale! Hope you are having a nice, peaceful Easter Sunday!
    Marie and I are laughing so hard right now but oh-so-happy you are OK!! This could have been TERRIBLE!!


  2. I had chills reading your story, Sharon. Thank goodness other boaters were around and that they look out for one another. I'm so glad that you and your boat are okay.

    I don't blame you for not wanting to drive the boat anymore!

  3. Your article was very good and well written, as usual. I didn't like the scary part about you flying out of your boat. So, how many lives do you have left now???

    You can never say that it is dull here.

    I know you are a brave woman and will be back in the Skiff again soon. Now, if it had been me that that had happened to - I would probably never be back in a boat again.


  4. Ok woman, listen up. I have also have some mishaps in boats; however, the lake that I am on is a bit smaller than your's. I have learned that when I am alone in said boat that it is wise to connect your ignition to an emergency stop line that is attached to your wrist or some other part of your body, thus if you happen to have a premature departure, your boat will wait for you. I obviously learned this lesson from the school of hard knocks. Also, a younger person like you has no business swimming in the ocean with a purse -- unless you are trying to make a new fasion statement.

    Ideas for future blogs: Medical and dental care both routine care on the island and what one does with emergencies that may need immediate care and problems with malaria that may cause people concerns.

    Well, enough for now. Happy boating!

    Love ya,
    Mike Harrison

  5. Man Sharon. I am so glad that you are ok. Thats good that there were the other two boats out there to help you as well.

    Keep safe, and I dont blame you for not wanting to drive the boat too.

  6. I was thrown out of a boat in an accident involving 2 boats and 3 teenagers(me one of them). Bad combination!

    I can appreciate your fear. I went under and had to follow my air bubbles to find the surface. This while hearing the motor/prop still going.

    Good news is, you kept your head about you.


  7. Man, I never liked outboards...too unstable! And yes, they should have a lanyard to the kill-switch, but I *never* saw any boat in Guanaja so equipped. Never. Adjusting the trim-tab to "fly straight" will only mean that the boat will happily drive away from you in a straight line until it runs out of gas. I always wondered why outboards didn't have return-springs on the throttles to bring them to idle if you let go?

    Ah, you know all of this already- that is just Life In Guanaja and that is how it is. I'm glad you did not get hurt, but you came damn close. (And in regard to your nine lives, perhaps somebody has been watching over you?)

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  9. Glad you're ok, Sharon!

    As has been mentioned by some folks above, definitely use a lanyard on your kill switch, hooked to your wrist or belt (whichever is most comfortable for you). Doug has had his set up this way for many years on Guanaja--ever since he got his boat.