Posted by: stiltsville | December 26, 2009

Miami boaters missing two weeks

Bimini Island, Bahama Islands - June 1998 imag...

Image via Wikipedia

It’s been two weeks since Richard Alicea and Edwin Pritchard left Haulover Marina and headed for Bimini, 50 miles east of Miami. They never made it and their family called the Coast Guard on Sunday to report the pair missing. 45,000 square miles was searched by the Coast Guard over the next week with no results.

Two weeks ago, the wind was blowing from the ESE at 20 MPH and reports were 6′ to 8′ seas. Richard and Edwin were on a 17′ Key Largo center console pictured here. Apparently, one or both the men had made the trip several times before during the summer months.

Two weeks ago, high tide was at about 6:00 am, meaning the tide was running out of the inlet in the morning hours. When you have an outgoing tide running into a wind out of the East, the waves inside the cut really stand up. It can be very ugly.

Assuming Richard and Edwin made it out through the cut, they then had about 50 miles to go before they hit Bimini. Once past the cut, the seas would have seemed to settle some  as the distance between waves would have stretched out. This gives the men more time to relax between waves.

If you run a direct 90-degree course out of Haulover on a flat summer day you’ll eventually see Bimini. Since the Gulf Stream is running a constnt 4 to 6 MPH north, you’ll see the island at about 1 or 2 o’clock off your bow depending on how fast you can go. On a very rough day you have to go much slower. So you spend more time in the stream and end up farther north.

However, with the wind out of the ESE, my guess is Edwin and Richard ended up pointing the bow much further south of Bimini to hit the waves head on.

Did they have a GPS or were they running on compass only? On a 17′ open boat, they would have been drenched by the time they cleared the cut. If they had a GPS, it would have been soaked. If they had a handheld GPS, it would have been very hard to hold on to, as they would have needed both hands to just hold on to the boat. A 17′ boat in 6′ to 8′ seas is like driving a car up and down stairs. It’s bone-jaringly rough. And a compass swings wildly.

Driving a 17′ boat out of Haulover inlet that day they had at most 35 gallons of fuel. That’s plenty to get to Bimini on a smooth summer day. Running into a headwind and 6′ to 8′ seas, they had to be going very slowly and making very little actual headway. Depending on the conditions that day, I can see this becoming a cold, wet 8 to 10 hour ordeal. A friend of mine was on a Discovery day cruise that day and said people were getting seasick all over the place. And that’s on a cruise ship.

A charter pilot flying over the Berry Islands a day or two after the men disappeared snapped a photo of two men on an uninhabited island 150 miles east of Miami. The letters SOS were written on the beach. The Coast Guard flew over the island the next day and found noone. Coast Guard landed on the island the following day and found nothing.

Could they have overshot Bimini to the south? Yes, and once they got up on the shallower Bahamas Bank, the waves would have been smaller. Could they have realized they were too far south and tried to adjust their course to the north? It’s possible, but unlikely they could have made it 150 miles in that kind of weather with just 35 gallons of fuel. But did they have extra fuel on board? Noone knows for sure.

Did they make it to an uninhabited island when the boat finally ran out of gas? Did someone find the boat abandoned and stash it in the mangroves? Did they try to swim from island to island and find help? Boats less than 19 or 20 feet must be “unsinkable” according to Federal regulations. They can flip over and partially submerge, but they don’t generaly sink entirely unless they are hit by a freighter and ground up to bits. The boat will most likely turn up some day and it may hold clues to what really happened. Or we may never know what happened when Richard and Edwin went to sea two weeks ago.

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