The next order of business after pulling ourselves together is to call US Customs and check in with them. The on duty officer informs us that the office is closed and that there is a “problem” and we are to report to the office the next morning. We secure the boat at the Biscayne Bay Marriott and get our rooms there. As we walk to the hotel, Steve's artificial leg which is filled with sea water goes squish, squish with each step. The next day we go into the Customs office and are informed that we are in “big trouble” as we did not follow proper procedure. We had not obtained a “User Fee Decal”, we should have reported to customs before leaving for the Bahamas and filled out some forms and further when a US boat is taken into international waters, it takes on the nationality of the Captain, in this case Canadian. They wanted me to fly to the Canadian consulate at Atlanta, GA and return with proper Canadian documentation for the boat ! The term they used to describe my boat was an “undocumented Canadian vessel”. We were held there for almost 4 hours and I was ready to tell them just to keep the boat and let us go. I thought I would take one last attempt at trying to reason with them. I said I was flying back to Canada in just a few days and that I would return with the documentation they were asking for within two weeks. They disappeared for a while into the office and when they came out said “ OK, here is what we are going to do for you. We are going to sell you the Customs User Fee Decal for I think it was $17.00 +/- and we are going to keep your State of Florida boat registration until you return with your Canadian documentation. You are free to go.” Were we glad to get out of there! We went straight to the boat and ran back to Marco Island as fast as we could without ever looking back. Since I tend to not take some of this stuff to seriously, I never did get around to arranging for the Canadian documentation for that boat. Some time later that fall, on a return trip to Marco I opened my waiting mail. Here was a renewal of my boat registration from the State of Florida for the coming year! Suddenly I once again had a valid registration document for my boat. Sweet, I was once again legal, well sort of I guess. Too funny.
When back in Canada my friend Steve informed me that with all the salt water we took on, some of the bolts and fasteners holding his artificial leg together started failing and he had to get a new leg. We laugh about that to this very day, some 20 years later. For the longest time after that whenever Steve would come offshore boating with me he made sure he brought a plastic garbage bag along and tape.
It was not long after, that I decided I needed a larger boat. I bought a new Cigarette Top Gun and sold “No Fear” to Steve and another friend Alan. From there Alan bought Steve out and traded it for a 41 Apache at Ralph Martin's Everglades Marina with Ed Cozzi doing the deal. No Fear was only about a year and a half old and Ed surveyed it for Everglades presenting Alan with a three page list of things that he found wrong with the boat. His final comment on the list was “ I think this boat has been sunk”. So now, Ed Cozzi, you know the real story !! LOL Sorry for holding out on you, all these years.
That lunch trip to Bimini taught me many valuable lessons that have kept me alive to this day. So what all did we learn from all the rookie mistakes I made ? I will list the things that were obvious to me and I'm sure that many of you can expand on it.
1)Always file a float plan when travelling offshore – tell someone where you are headed and the expected arrival time. On arrival, be sure to let them know of your safe arrival so the Coast Guard is not called out needlessly
2)Have good navigational equipment, more than just a compass. Following our trip I bought a Loran chart plotter as GPS was not yet available. I now have GPS plotters on all my boats.
3)Check the weather to know if you have a weather window that will allow you to get to where you are going and back. I often refer to NOAA Marine Weather and a few other sites to compare if it involves going very far offshore say like, Cancun. LOL
4)Have a backup VHF radio in a waterproof container
5)I now also carry a satellite telephone in addition to my cell phones.
6)Put together a ditch bag. That is a waterproof bag that you can grab in a hurry if an emergency forces you off the boat. It will contain all of the safety gear such as up to date flares and other communication and signalling devices that you will need to call for help. I also have an EPIRB. PROPERLY REGISTER IT !!
7)I also went out and bought a quality inflatable life raft. It is compact and does not take up much space.
8)Take a Power Squadron or similar coarse to get educated about these things and don't do it the hard way like Bobthebuilder.
9)Take your responsibility as Captain seriously. It is one thing to endanger yourself but make good decisions that do not put your crew at undue risk. They have families to. The right decision that day would have been to leave the boat in Bimini, fly back to Florida and return for it when the weather improved.
10)And I guess the final lesson was don't wear running shoes while boating on Florida's east coast and garbage bags and duct tape can be worthwhile supplies to have on board. LOL
Pic 1 is myself and my daughter leaving St Pete's with No Fear for Marco Island after taking delivery and pic 2 is Steve in his new aquisition "No Fear" and to the right my new 1991 Cigarette Top Gun; pics 3 & 4 Google Earth pics. No Google Earth in 1990 !