I wanted to get this down while it is still fresh in my mind. These are the facts as I remember them from the Bahamas boat incident on May 26. It's gruesome -- please don't read it if you think you might not be able to handle it. It's totally unedited, and I banged it out over the last 10 minutes. Have to go board a flight now, but I will come back and edit it later. If there were a "HOLY FUCK" category in my journal, this entry would be in it.
In the late afternoon of May 26, we spotted two coast guard helicopters flying out in the distance. One was really low in the water and looked like it was dropping a cage. Rob picked up chatter on the radio saying that there had been some sort of "collision," and that the Gulf Stream Eagle was on its way to offer help. We had encountered an abandoned sailboat the day before, and knew that a search was under way for a missing man (coast guard said that breakfast was still on the table, so it was a criminal investigation), which is probably why the choppers were circling in the area.
Jim offered assistance to the CG via radio, and we started motoring carefully to the area (it was very shallow). As we approached, we spotted a red fuel can, and brought it on board. When we arrived onsite, we saw an upside-down motorboat with some white marks on the hull. Jim radioed CG and offered to send a diver in to see if there were any survivors.
CG: "We cannot advise sending divers in the water. There are sharks around the boat."
Jim: "Roger. We are a shark diving vessel."
CG: [pause] "Um... OK, if that's what you do..."
There was some laughter in the bridge, but only because we didn't know yet what we would find later. Rob suited up quickly and jumped in the water. Don was probably about a minute behind him.
Shortly after swimming under the boat, Rob surfaced and yelled, "Help!", and immediately went back under. Obviously, the mood on the boat changed immediately; we had no idea what kind of help Rob was asking for. Rob or Don then surfaced and yelled, "There are bodies!"
One bright orange life jacket bobbed to the surface, followed by a second. One body stayed floating in contact with the boat, while the other drifted slowly away. Meanwhile, by our boat, we saw two tiger sharks swim by. One was very small -- probably 6-7 feet long, and the other was slightly larger, maybe a 10 footer. Don and Rob disappeared again below the surface for awhile, again.
When the surfaced, we yelled out to them that were were tiger sharks in the water and they started swimming back to our boat. Meanwhile, the Gulf Stream Eagle had arrived, and had a guy in a wetsuit standing on the front of the bow, looking around in the water.
Don and Rob returned to our boat. Their story:
Rob had gone in first under the boat into the entrance of the tiny cabin, and immediately spotted a body. He thought it was moving (alive) and pulled it down and out of the boat. (Anyone who has every tried to pull a life jacket underwater can appreciate the difficulty of doing something like this). He spotted a second body and pulled it out as well. Rob and Don spotted two more bodies under the boat. There was fishing line and a mess of other stuff everywhere. Rob lost his "shark stick" and his weight belt and floated up into the upturned boat -- right up to the bodies, getting tangled in fishing wire on the way.
Rob made it out of the tangle and came back to our boat for a weight belt, which we handed to him. He and Don went back underneath the boat and tried to pull the next body out, but it was stuck on something and wouldn't budge. Then, Don noticed something moving just below him, in the 3-4 feet of space to the bottom, which was a sparse green grass bed. He quickly realized that it was a large tiger shark, and made a decision to get the hell out. Don and Rob returned to the boat without retrieving the two bodies.
Both floating bodies were decomposing and bloated. They clearly had black skin, but much of it had bleached. It was pretty nasty. As a former policeman, Don had wanted to leave the bodies under the boat ("They're DEAD.") until the authorities could flip the boat, but by the time he arrived to the scene, Rob had already pulled one out because he thought one of them might be alive.
It was late in the afternoon, and "magic hour" was starting to approach. "Magic hour" is dusk -- the time when sharks can become more active; it is not considered a good time to be in the water with sharks.
Don and Rob were back safely on the boat when the Gulf Stream Eagle's diver splashed into the water from its bow. We thought this was a really bad idea (as was sending our divers in, in hindsight). The GSE's diver surfaced and flash two fingers to his boat. Two more bodies.
Don looked over at me and said, "If you ever wanted to see what happens to a body floating at sea..." He was sort of joking, but right then, two tiger sharks (the small one and medium-sized one) hit the body that had drifted away from the boat. A collective "HOLY SHIT" came from our group, who were pretty much all watching from the bridge. The body was very close to our boat. The sea around the body became a froth of white foam and spray in a scene that couldn't have been better done by Hollywood. The sharks whipped their heads back and forth, and went first for the crotch and upper legs. Intestines burst out within a minute. I saw a hand burst up from the body a few times, as well as a femur with knee cartilage at the end of it.
Within 8 minutes, all of the skin and most of the flesh had been stripped off of the body, leaving only a floating mess of internal guts and organs. The life jacket had been bitten as well, and was floating away from the body. The two sharks seemed to take a break for awhile (maybe 30 seconds?) before coming back to finish their meal, which probably only took another few minutes. Time really had a different meaning during this entire scene, but I looked at time stamps from photos to get the durations.
During this time, the GSE's diver got out of the water, and the captain of the other boat radioed in. "Jim, tell me there isn't a body attached to that life jacket."
Jim replied. "I'm sorry, but I can't."
During this entire time, a coast guard helicopter was hovering, taking video footage and still shots.
The GSE decided to approach the boat and lower a diver above it to tie a line on so it could be anchored overnight. At this point, we decided to leave.
"We've seen enough," Jim said, over the radio.
As we were leaving, two Bahamian police boats were coming in to assist. The GSE radioed in to say that they were going to put in a diver to retrieve the other two bodies. That's right: in the middle of magic hour (the sun had gone down), the GSE put in a diver after two tiger sharks had consumed a dead body. The remaining bodies were wedged in a place where the sharks couldn't get to them, anyway...
But they managed to retrieve the two bodies and bring them aboard (along with the third body, which they had retrieved shortly after the sharks hit the first body). We assumed that they would be transfered to the police boats.
At around 10:30am the next day, we saw two BASRA boats going out to attempt to right the boat and tow it in. A few hours later, we saw them headed back — without the boat. The boat had earlier been anchored in very-shallow water by the Gulf Stream Eagle in
an area where boats are unlikely to be cruising (where it was found), but as we headed back to Florida at dusk, we nearly ran into the hull — floating around in the Gulf Stream! The top of the boat had been ripped off of the upside-down hull and was tied next to it. An orange life jacket was tied to the railing, but there was nothing else — not even a strobe. It did not show up on radar, and we were lucky that there was still some light. If we had hit that thing while traveling at night, it would have been OVER. Our boat would have gone down, and all of us who bunked in the bow probably would have been pulped. I can’t believe BASRA’s “completing its role in the investigation” actually means that they left a terrible navigation hazard floating around in an area where boats cruise at night.