“Turn of Events” – The Story of 2 Shea Charters and How a Southport Saved the Day
This week, we’re posting Part I of the 2 Shea Charters Story from a fateful day and night in April 2009. Check back here next for for Part II.
TJ Shea is the Owner of 2 Shea Charters, a Clearwater FL based fishing and diving business. His site can be found at: fishanddivetampa.com. Here is his story…
It was the winter of 2007 and I was in need of a bigger boat to help expand my fledgling business. My travels along Florida’s east coast allowed me to check out a variety of different center consoles in the 28-32 foot class and conduct a bevy of sea trials. I had narrowed my choice down to two, neither being a Southport; but, as fate would have it, a quick day trip to Miami altered my ultimate decision and later reminded me that I made the right call during an unforgettable turn of events.
I came across a Southport 28 while killing time in Miami driving through various marinas and was impressed straight away. After hours of research, a trip to Wilmington, North Carolina to tour the factory and a sea trial in some nasty Carolina seas, I was sold. Fast forward a little over a year of running her as the 2 Shea, when the inaugural Southwest Florida Open Spearfishing Tournament was announced for April 2009. Plans were set, six veteran angler/divers were committed along with me at the helm and way too many dive tanks lined the dock. We loaded up the 2 Shea, both coffin box and aft fish box full of ice, 25 gallons of “just in case” fuel, dive gear, a few rods, beer, water, food, and 32 dive tanks topped off by an even ton of people weight. We left the dock Friday night for the 105 mile ride out to the Florida Middle Grounds so we could start diving at sun up and get back in before dark on Saturday. We were in search of BIG fish that would represent us well Sunday morning at the weigh in down in Fort Myers. We had a favorable forecast of calm winds and seas all through the weekend but living and working on the water in Florida since I was a kid I know storms pop up all of the time.
The trip went better than any of us could have imagined and by 3:00pm had both the aft fish box and the coffin full with sizable fish in most all categories. After a quick sweep of the deck, we headed east for what turned out to be anything but an easy three hour ride back to port. At around 45 miles from the pass, we blew the lower unit of the starboard engine – frustrating but recoverable. Instead of running at 33mph, we would come home on one engine doing about 9mph. I made a quick call to the US Coast Guard (USCG) to notify them of our situation. Tournament weigh in was the following day so we focused on making the best of a slow ride in by sharing some tales and enjoying the cold beer untouched until this point in the trip. Sea conditions started to change around 6:45pm with 25 miles left, growing from an easy 1-2 foot roll to a 2 foot chop with clouds moving in quickly. By sunset, the sea state grew much angrier while those dark clouds in the east held a display of lightning strikes. At this point, my instincts pointed to trouble so I called the Coast Guard to share our updated position. We agreed to communicate every 10 minutes as long as the 2 Shea was continuing to make way.
A short time passed, then conditions spiraled out of control. In a matter of minutes, the freak storm had grown the seas from 2-4 feet to a solid 6-8 feet, sending wave after wave crashing over the bow. I distinctly remember one minute heading at a 100 degree heading then getting slammed so hard I was surfing down a wave headed due north. By now it was pitch dark, leaving us blind to the waves, though we felt them continuously dumping water over the bow. This is where the ridiculous amount of gear and hefty catch came around to bite us. I could not get enough thrust out of the remaining engine to get the bow up and made the mayday call to the USGC.
As a consequence of the storm we saw cook up the horizon and the 2 Shea still having power, the USCG did not launch either a boat or helicopter. We were on our own with a single five-gallon bailing bucket on board, which we supplemented with two drawers from the tackle box to bail water a fast a humanly possible. Unable to keep up with the inbound volume, we pulled both transom doors and it felt as if we had a river running through the boat. We stayed in contact with the USCG every five minutes and continued making way until the seas grew too big to head right into them. At that point, I turned her southeast so that I could use the huge flare to beat down the waves a bit better. We moved all the weight to opposite side so we would not get swamped and kept bailing until USCG finally arrived on scene, now 11:30pm with 10 miles to go. I transferred all but one of my guys (Captain Brian) on to the 47-foot aluminum hull MLB and took on a Seaman. During this shuffle, the sterns smashed together destroying my swim ladder and leaving what I was sure was a huge mark on the hull that turned out to be a minor ding on the rub rail. I tucked her behind MLB so the 47-footer could beat the seas down – hoping the worst of the ordeal was behind us. Wishful thinking.
The 2 Shea ran out of fuel with 7 miles left to go. USCG agreed to tow her in an attempt to protect all of our expensive dive gear on board. With this decision, I got to firsthand test what it takes to capsize a Southport. With tow lines attached, Captain Brian jumped aboard the USCG vessel and we were underway. About a quarter mile into the tow, I realized my bow was being pulled too low and the waves just kept coming. With all of the weight moved to the stern, I was optimistic; then, in the blink of an eye, all the dive tanks rolled to starboard and the gunnel was under water. The Seaman told me it was time to jump, sensing she was beginning to roll. In a state of disbelief, I jumped up with the Seaman on to the port gunnel as I watched a cooler and a few dive tanks roll out. Seconds from jumping overboard, the Seaman stopped me to turn on the light of my PFD. This pause gave time for three huge waves to hit the starboard side, destroying the isinglass but more importantly hitting with enough force to pop the starboard side gunnel back above water. I jumped back in and started bailing with all my might as the Seaman screamed at me to jump out, but I wasn’t budging.
Check back next week for Part II, the conclusion of the story and an updated on TJ’s current Southport fleet.