Saturday, October 22, 2011
Turbulent Weather and an Unexpected Flare Sighting...
Contrary to prevailing perceptions, the weather here in the Keys isn't always nice and sunny. And when I say nice and sunny I mean bright blue skies, warm temperatures, gentle breezes and calm blue waters with lots of sunshine.
I'm talking about the kind of weather that will make an unabashed beer drinker want to set his beer aside and indulge in a few colorful mixed drinks with little umbrellas sticking out of them while listening to Jimmy Buffet and not give a rat's ass who might be looking on.
But no, the weather here in the Keys can indeed get lousy as so happened earlier this past week when a tropical storm system developed and sat offshore for days on end.
That weather system went on to dump copious amounts of rain throughout the Keys and put a huge damper on everybody's party spirits. (Ouch... sorry for the pun... I couldn't help myself.)
And so it was the other evening while dinghying back to my boat, with winds continuously gusting some twenty or so knots, that I happened to observe a flare go off in the distance and briefly light up the night sky.
That flare couldn't have been more than a mile away but with the weather being what it was, I elected to instead do the prudent thing and proceed on out to my boat and report the flare sighting to the US Coast Guard.
Along with the gusting winds there had been a good amount of chop in the water as well and the last thing that I needed that evening was for my dinky two-stroke outboard motor to run out of gas and then for me have to start rowing.
It was also one of those moments when I questioned my judgement of not having bothered to have a life jacket along with me. (Memo to self... store a life jacket in the dinghy at all times.)
So after motoring on out to my boat and then securing my dinghy and climbing aboard, I reached for my handheld VHF radio and hailed the US Coast Guard. I then proceeded to give the officer on duty a full account of the flare that I had seen just minutes earlier.
Well to my surprised bewilderment, that flare hadn't yet been reported in spite of the fact that it had certainly gone off in the vicinity of Wisteria Key,(aka Christmas Tree Island),and among a number of other boats at anchor.
Nevertheless after ten or so minutes later, the US Coast Guard came on the radio with an all bulletin alert requesting that all boaters "keep a sharp lookout for a male swimmer with dark complexion and dark hair and wearing blue-jean cutoffs" and to assist if at all possible.
Shortly afterwards a US Coast Guard Search and Rescue helicopter could be seen off in the distance hovering and circling Key West Channel for a good ninety minutes while the same Coast Guard officer would periodically come on the radio and repeat his request that all boaters in the vicinity "keep a sharp lookout".
Somehow I found the subsequent Coast Guard radio requests to be somewhat distressing after that helicopter eventually stopped hovering with its search light on. It then flew almost directly overhead on its way back to its base on Boca Chica, a nearby key.
Incidentally I somehow gotta believe that if a US Coast Guard radio operator wants to effectively communicate numbers, whether they be an emergency phone number or GPS coordinates, then he or she needs to slow down their delivery and clearly enunciate each number.
It's virtually impossible to comprehend what's being said while they rattle off the information as if announcing a NASCAR car race.
Having said that, thank you US Coast Guard for what you do.
The following news accounts of the incident were copy/pasted from the Keysnews website.
Sailboater went missing off Wisteria
BY TIMOTHY O'HARA Citizen Staff
Authorities are searching for a man who reportedly dived off a sailboat near Wisteria Island Monday night.
Donald Roller, 45, last was seen swimming toward the island after he jumped off the Quest wearing jean shorts and no life jacket, his girlfriend told authorities.
Roller's girlfriend, who was in their dinghy beside the sailboat, was experiencing mechanical difficulties and was drifting. Roller reportedly dived into the water either to help her or to get in the dinghy, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Lt. Dave Dipre said.
The girlfriend notified the Coast Guard at 7:30 p.m.
Authorities searched Wisteria Island Monday night and used helicopters and several boats to continue searching the area Tuesday, Dipre said, adding they also "went boat to boat" searching for Roller.
Roller's 25-foot sailboat was anchored 100 yards north of Wisteria Island, which is in Key West Harbor, an area known for strong currents, Dipre said.
"Even in strong currents, there were plenty of boats in the area that he could have swam to," Dipre said.
The agency has passed the case to the Monroe County Sheriff's Office, which is treating the disappearance as a missing persons case, sheriff's spokeswoman Deputy Becky Herrin said.
The couple had bought the sailboat recently, Dipre said, and were arguing when he disappeared, according to the Coast Guard. It was unclear whether the argument was about the dinghy or something else.
Coast Guard Sector Key West asks anyone with information regarding Roller's whereabouts to call its operations center at 305-295-9700 or the sheriff's dispatch center at 305-289-2351.
Body found floating
May be missing sailboat resident
BY ADAM LINHARDT Citizen Staff
A body believed to be that of a missing live-aboard was found Wednesday by salvors who were rounding up boats and dinghies displaced after a waterspout ripped through Wisteria Island and the surrounding area late Tuesday.
The body, believed to be 42-year-old Donald Roller, was in about 5 feet of water on the Gulf side of the island, between it and Roller's sailboat, the Quest, said Capt. Arnaud Girard, who owns a private salvaging company. The body was about 60 feet from the Quest and 100 feet from where Roller's girlfriend told authorities she last saw him alive Monday night, Girard said.
"My mate, Jeff Sundwal, actually found the body and called me over," said Girard, who was in a separate boat.
After they pulled the body onto Girard's 23-foot salvage boat, the Magic Penny, the Coast Guard arrived and took the body ashore, said Coast Guard spokeswoman Lt. Kara Lavin.
The Monroe County medical examiner will conduct an autopsy to determine the cause of death, and the Monroe County Sheriff's Office is investigating the circumstances.
"It is currently a 'death investigation,' " sheriff's spokeswoman Deputy Becky Herrin said, adding there were no obvious signs of foul play on Roller's body. "We will have to see what the autopsy reveals."
Girard also said there was no obvious sign of trauma, only a cut on Roller's shoulder.
Roller's live-in girlfriend, Beverly Anderson, had reported him missing at 7:30 p.m. Monday, saying she saw him dive off their 25-foot sailboat as she drifted toward Wisteria Island in a dinghy with a dead engine, according to a sheriff's report.
Anderson told authorities she had left because she and Roller were arguing. Anderson initially couldn't get the dinghy engine started, so Roller got into the dinghy and started it for her, then got back on their boat, and she left, she told authorities. When the engine quit, Roller asked if she wanted him to swim over and help her, but she never saw him after he jumped into the water, she said.
Key West Harbor is known for its strong currents, but Girard said there was little movement Monday night between the high and low tides.
Authorities searched Wisteria Island Monday night and used helicopters and several boats to continue searching the area Tuesday, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission went boat to boat searching for Roller.
Anderson has been arrested five times since April 2007, including twice on battery charges, according to Sheriff's Office records.
She was convicted of a felony for stabbing a man in the back three times with a paint scraper while her then-boyfriend held him down on Wisteria Island in May 2009, according to a Sheriff's Office report. The man, who Anderson accused of stealing her dive gear, suffered only a superficial cut near his shoulder blade.
In July 2010, a different boyfriend told authorities Anderson cut his wrist with a filet knife as he defended himself from being stabbed by her during an argument on a boat near Wisteria Island, according to a sheriff's report. Though he didn't want to press charges because she was on probation for the previous stabbing, authorities charged her with misdemeanor battery, instead of felony aggravated battery, but the charges later were dropped.
WEATHER NEWS (click to read more)
A large waterspout blew across Wisteria Island at 10 p.m. Tuesday, sending dinghies flying and causing some minor damage to boats in the area, but no one was injured, according to Arnaud Girard, a salvage company owner who was called to do cleanup in the area.
While working, Girard found the body of a man who jumped off his sailboat and last was seen swimming toward Wisteria Island Monday night.
The Lower Keys was under a flood warning until 12:45 p.m. Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service. At 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, the heaviest showers and thunderstorms were over the Middle and Upper keys, leaving the Lower Keys with only light rainfall.
Christmas Tree Island, May 1989.