Submitted February 16, 2009

Urban Survival in the Florida Keys

In the early 90's I was in the process of circumnavigating the Florida Keys in my 22’ sailboat, and after leaving the boat anchored in a bay on long key for a weekend, I came back the following weekend to find it had blown from its mooring and was approx. a mile-and-a-half offshore stuck in a mud flat. I motored up in my inflatable dingy and transferred the outboard motor from it to the sailboat and cranked up the engine full speed in reverse to try and free it. To assist in this process I stood at the bow end on top of the pulpit rails and held on to the rigging, rocking the boat back and forth. I slipped off the rail, and made a conscious decision in midair to twist my body to land on the deck, not in the water(I was wearing new shirt, shorts and shoes that at the moment seemed more precious than health).

When I hit the deck I heard a loud cracking noise, like a 2x4 breaking. I jumped up to my feet and looked at my arms, and realized the fall had dislocated my right elbow, it left my arm in a grotesque T-shape. I immediately vomited and passed out, only to come to and repeat the process again. I finally got it together and broke out the emergency kit. a boat was cruising by about a 1/2 mile away, so I grabbed a signal flare and, being one-handed, pulled the cord with my teeth while holding the flare with my left hand. this immediately scorched my face

With the discharge, and the boat cruised on, not noticing. I then grabbed the vial of dye to put in the water to mark my location, and again being one-handed unscrewed the cap with my teeth. A smidgen of the powder got in my mouth, and for 24 hours my mouth glowed fluorescent green, and if I spit it also glowed. I fired off 2 more flares when boats were nearby, but again no luck, so I got back in my inflatable dingy to try and reach shore. I was unable to transfer the outboard motor with one arm, so I tried one arm paddling, but only went in circles. thankfully, the tide was headed in so I drifted along, waves of nausea and waves of water occasionally passing over me. I had screamed for help for so long I was hoarse, and resorted to waving a red flag taped to an oar over my head at passing boaters. after about 2 hours of drifting towards shore, I saw a fisherman standing on the rocks of a jetty, and was able to semi-paddle towards him. I finally crawled out on the rocks and staggered over to him, and asked if he could send for help. The entire time I approached him he never looked me in the eye, he only stared at my deformed arm. He asked me what I needed help for and when I said my elbow, he replied "oh, it's not always like that?" he hikes back to his car and leaves, I’m panting and sunburned on the rocks, with thoughts of necessary amputation starting to enter my mind. finally the volunteer fire dept. shows up with two kids that look like they just got out of high school, and they started to treat me in the back of their vehicle. Suddenly a passing motorist pulls up in a truck and begins to load up my dingy in their truck, so I have to run out and yell at the guy that the raft belongs to me, and I was able to convince the firemen to chain and lock it to a tree for me. I make it to the hospital, get treated and released, and go home. I returned the following weekend, arm in cast and this time meet with seatow to free the boat. Sailing homeward the next day I stop at a bait store for a little fishing, and behind the counter selling squid and pilchards is the pimple-faced kid with the high voice who happened to be also my volunteer-fireman rescuer. I thanked him again and sailed off.

Charles from Miami

A Note from Survival Authority, Tom Sciacca of

After i received the story above, I sent the following to Charlie.


Very cool story. Thanks. How's the arm? I'm gunna read it again in a second. Just want to put down a couple quick thoughts after my first read. I always look at these stories and beside thinking, that sucks! ;-) I also think hmmm, how could I be better prepared? Of course stuff happens and there's nothing we can do about it sometimes, but how did this experience change you, what you do and what you have if at all? By the way, what is your address? I'll send out a couple things as a simple thanks.


Charlie then sent the following good info back to me. Check it out.

"What I have learned and would do different:

Vanity can be a fault of mine, and I should have cared more about my body and health than my new clothes. I made a conscious decision in mid-air to not fall in the water and the price I paid was far greater than the cost of clothing. There also is a sailors rule to set 2 anchors when leaving your boat if not tied to a dock or mooring, and if I had done so then my boat probably wouldn't have drifted onto the flats like it did. Lastly, a 2-way radio is considered mandatory for sailors but I always tried to be old-school (cheap) and go it without communication. If i had a radio, I could have alerted local authorities and waited for help. Emergency communication is essential for any remote activity. I have sailed safely ever since.

Charles from Miami"

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