Stay with the boat. That’s the No. 1 rule for boaters when their craft capsizes. But what if there is no boat?
“It went like this,” said Sharieff Vincent, using his hand to mimic the boat rolling over and then it’s zigzag descent to the bottom of the ocean.
“But first it went like this,” said Marco Vestich, putting his forearm at a right angle. “The bow came out of the water. It totally did a ‘Titanic,’” he said, smiling.
Sharieff, 23, and Marco, 19, are the two spear fishermen who made an epic swim back to shore after their craft capsized five miles out to sea on Jan. 17. The mismatched pair who bonded over their passion for spearfishing now share a much stronger connection. The Weekly Newspapers recently sat down with the two to hear their tale.
It began, they said, innocently enough; a regular trip to the reef line from Big Pine Key to just west of Marathon. Marco told his mom that they were going and Sharieff, as is his custom, put up some pictures on Facebook of the two heading out on Marco’s 16-foot Mako powered by a 50 HP Johnson.
“We knew the storm was coming,” Sharieff said, referring to a cold front that passed through the Keys that night, whipping the islands with strong gusts. “We planned to be back at the dock by sundown.”
After about four hours, and feeling pleasantly tired, the two pointed the boat for home. Sharieff remembers the sun was setting as he snapped a couple of pictures of the catch. It was the last pleasant moment of the trip.
A wave crashed over the outboard and the boat lost most of its power. Successive waves put gallons of blue on top of the deck. The boat started to waddle and one good broadside wave was all it took to capsize the craft. The two had to swim out from under the boat to surface.
“I vividly remember watching our cooler with all the fish in it float away,” Sharieff said.
Sharieff was wearing half a wetsuit and Marco was wearing a full wetsuit. Both managed to snag a lifejacket. And both knew they had only one option — make a swim for land. Within about 10 minutes, they said, they found the first lobster buoy. They wouldn’t see another for the next four hours.
Isabelle, Marco’s mom, was the first to sound the alarm. The two have a close relationship and she knew it was a bad sign when her son and friend weren’t home by nightfall. Earlier in the day, she had seen Marco carrying a single can of gas. She thought that meant he would be sticking closer to shore, perhaps the Bahia Honda Bridge, a favorite spot.
Jeremy Foella of Marathon, a fellow spearfishing enthusiast also knew the pair was missing. He saw a photo Sharieff posted on Facebook and knew his friends had planned a longer trip because there were three gas cans in the photo. He forwarded the photos to the U.S. Coast Guard and, as it turns out, accurately guessed his friends’ location.
Unfortunately, the guardsmen couldn’t locate Sharieff and Marco.