On The Hook: Tales of Irma

Bill Walsh

There comes a time when fishing and its narratives take second fiddle. And this is that time. Fishing and its yarns become remote when basic survival kicks in.

It’s hard to chuckle at a fishing story when your concentration is trying to find a contractor to cut up a downed tree or the perseverance to spend endless hours trying to acquire fuel for your generator or automobile. Even for the hardiest of us, Irma has been the real deal.

Rose Marine's charter fishing captains' kiosk.

But amongst all the tough hot daytime hours and dark hot breathless nights there is a stalwart nature to this populace and it shines when these tough days appear.

I like many have been chasing the access to gasoline to keep a thundering generator alive here at home to sustain a barely basic life experience going forward. So, chasing information belching forth from an emergency crank up radio as to where certain gasoline stations were performing their primary duty yesterday, it was tempting enough to try the journey to one station in Golden Gates.

For many of us on the back nine of this life’s journey will remember the contrived gas shortage thrust on the populace in the 1960s. They will recall the miles of long lines at any gas station that formed long before dawn where the hopeful awaited a limited five gallon award.

Arriving in Golden Gates Tuesday was a nightmarish reenactment. The line of frantic motorists hoping that the benevolent station’s supply of fuel was close to a mile and a half long. That wouldn’t do; we hightailed it home nearing empty.

Mid-afternoon a good friend informed me that the Rose Marina was disbursing fuel to the populace, but just for those nursing emergency generator continuance. Grabbing a couple of now empty five gallon containers, I raced to join a line of 50 or so fellow gasoline starved citizens that were overjoyed with this chance of sustaining life’s basics at home.

Would have to say this was as joyous a crowd possible in this trying time. They had accepted the inevitable and were quick to recount various information and water oriented experiences thrust on them and neighbors caused by the direct hit hurricane packing unprecedented 130 mph winds.

This then is a few of the stories recounted freely in conversation as we awaited our turn at the pump.


This person thought it a good idea to anchor their 30 some foot sailboat in the Marco River somewhere between Capri and the channel markers  prior to Irma’s arrival but well after all warnings.

Most suspect they anchored with two short scope Danforth anchors and sped off in their powered inflatable and probably departed Southwest Florida.

When Irma’s easterly winds kicked up, those nearby likened it to a scene from movie the “The Perfect Storm” wave heights in the river went from zilch to three of four feet in less than 15 minutes. Those two short scope Danforth anchors could not hold in that soft mud bottom in this shallow portion of the Marco River and the sailboat got “underway.”

The unintended drift was not docile in 100 mile per hour winds. The sailboat was moved westerly and struck a dock and lift on the west side of the river and toppled a small power boat on a lift into the drink that, reportedly, was sunk.

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It then danced around hither and thither as the hurricane eye’s wind shifted west still dragging it’s anchors and ended up aground still untended in the west in the shallows.

Good example of unintended result as a result of careless abandonment.


The boat ramp at 951 was a zoo as folks scrambled to get their boats out so the water and on trailers as Irma approached and all the weather reports began screaming “It’s moving west.”

Predictions of a direct hit on Marco Island began to dominate the late afternoon national news.

The boats awaiting their trailers were orderly but anxious. One skiff with a fellow had his dog aboard that was particularly jittery and the small pup racing back and forth excitedly. As his trailer arrived at the ramp and he was backing in, the little guy probably thought he was at the beach and gave it a leap into the then moving tidal waters.

The boat operator screamed and immediately aborted the recovery and came alongside the now frightened pup and pulled him aboard.

The amazing thing in this desperate time is that everyone else held in place and with the pup constrained now, the operator made his recovery to the trailer.

Good manners and consideration for others from some very thoughtful boaters.


Loved these great tales of Irma experiences from my fellow line standers but now it was my turn.

Wifey and I with two dogs fully intended to honker down and stay at home until the predicted track of Irma turned west on Friday. No place to be in a wild Cat 5 hurricane.

Finding a place to stay with two dogs out of harm’s way isn’t easy but we luckily found a motel with availability in Lakeland. So off we went on Saturday morning along with thousands of others heading north on I-75. The motel was accommodating and friendly and the incessant news on most TV channels proved we made the right decision to move away from the “direct hit” on our home island; that info stream ended when Lakeland lost power.

By mid-morning Monday, we had received info that Irma had passed and conditions to the south were now better. So we checked out and headed home.

Thinking I-75 would be a zoo of returnees we decided to take Route 17 south through Punta Gorda. Just south of Arcadia we ran into a patch of the highway with a foot of water overrunning it and we easily forded the flow.

Within the next two miles we ran into another fording event but now in the two foot range. With some apprehension because of now flooded abandoned cars ahead, we forged ahead and made it. We were now within 30 minutes of rejoining I-75 when we met a raging three foot “river” crossing I-75. Most cars were stalled out in the river or turning around.

With confidence in a four cylinder Ford Escape with a standard high air engine intake; we prayed for a few minutes and entered the water flow. To no exaggeration the water surge created by our forward motion was nearly level with the top of the hood and cascading water up over the windshield as we forded the couple hundred feet. We made it!

Irma’s wrath was not to defeat us and the good people of Southwest Florida.

Capt. Bill Walsh owns a charter fishing business and holds a U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments to dawnpatrolmarco@cs.com.