The four men and two boys were rescued and made it safely back to shore after their boat sank 10 miles offshore of Flagler Beach the morning of July 10, so this much they can laugh about now: after the 23-foot center-console fishing boat had rapidly taken on water and capsized, leaving its occupants barely enough time to put on their life jackets, Jason Arnett managed to pull out his phone and was desperate to try to reach his wife.
“We had sent that Mayday, ‘Hey, we’re going down, we’re going down,’ we never got a copy back from them because the boat went down so quick,” Arnett said of the Coast Guard. “At that time, I took my phone out of the bait bag. And I was trying to call my wife to tell her to call the Coast Guard and give her updated coordinates and whatnot. And when I tried to call her, I couldn’t. My phone was wet. My hands were wet. I couldn’t touch the screen on my phone. So it’s a little scary because I couldn’t make my phone work by touching it. And if I tried to push a number I’d push a different number, or it would push anything at all. So I was having Siri call her by voice. But she wasn’t answering.
“So I actually do home automation and smart homes for a living. And I have a smart home at my house. So the way I was able to get her up at 7 a.m. was, I logged into my smart home from my phone. And I blasted music. I mean I’m blasting music all across the house.” It was Pandora. It happened to be “The Humpty Dance.”
“That’s what I do when she’s not answering and it’s an emergency. Turn on music–never as loud as I did Saturday,” Arnett said. “I blasted it. My 17 year old son actually got up and was all mad because he got woke up. He just walked around to turn all the music off. But as soon as my wife heard it, she knew exactly what it was. And she called me back within 10 seconds.”
Fifteen minutes later, thanks to the lucky passage of another fishing boat, the Southern Chaos out of Bunnell, the six were rescued.
The music-blasting from ocean deeps was only one of the uncommon twists and fortunate turns in a relatively brief odyssey that could have ended in disaster, and on a day when an unrelated diver was lost at sea in the region.
But it didn’t, thanks to the level-headedness of the six people aboard the Kicking Back–including the two children, Michael Jr., 12, who’d been offshore many times, and Braden, 13 (his first time offshore), the sons of Capt. Mike Lamonica, who was on board and whose boat it was. Lamonica’s brother–in-law Eric and his friend Terry were also on board. No one panicked. Everyone focused.
The six had traveled out of the Matanzas inlet near 6 o’clock that morning to go fishing for snapper in the Flagler grounds between 9 and 12 miles offshore. Friday, Saturday and Sunday alone were open to snapper fishing in Atlantic waters. “Everyone was going out, and that’s really what we credit to being found so quickly because, there was just a lot of traffic out on the water that day,” Arnett, a 42-year-old businessman, said. He’d been fishing for five years, going out a handful of times a year, though he’s been boating his whole life, starting on freshwater.
So the Kicking back was cruising along and had gotten far enough offshore that the only thing the boaters could see of land was the top of the condos, if that.
“We were probably I’d say six miles to the destination, and all of a sudden, spun a prop up and lost all power to the vessel,” Lamonica, 40, said. “So I was like, alright guys, fishing is over with. We’re just going to go ahead and throw the anchor so we don’t drift.”
That was problem enough, but not catastrophic: at that point they thought they could anchor, radio for help, and wait. The water was choppy, two to three-foot waves at seven-second internals. Lamonica and Eric were working a tangle in the anchor rope for a few minutes when they noticed the boat was taking on water. That was not expected, and it’s still unexplained. Lamonica thinks maybe it was one of the scupper hoses coming off, but “that’s just speculating,” he said.
He had everyone put on their life vests. “They were very calm, that was pretty surprising, they did really well,” Lamonica said of everyone on the boat. “I mean, they know boating safety from me talking to them. We’ve really never talked about if water was going to come in the boat, or anything like that because not a million years I thought that would happen, you know what I mean?” He’d been boating since he was 4 and never had any incident remotely like that.
“From the time we lost propulsion to the time we realized we were starting to bring on water was only maybe two or three minutes,” Arnett said.
Even then, it didn’t seem entirely catastrophic. They got a pump going to keep the water out, Lamonica got on the radio with the Coast Guard, gave them his coordinates, told them how many people were on the boat, and they told him they were dispatching a boat to their location. The boat seemed to be doing OK, the pump was catching up enough to keep it steady. Arnett ripped apart a cooler to get its shell out and use it to scoop more water out. But then a wavelet or two crashed over the transom, not big, but enough to send water up to the center console.
“From the time the ocean started coming in over the top of that transom wall until the time the boat was completely flipped upside down and capsized was maybe 30 seconds to a minute,” Arnett said. “So at that point, I just yelled up front Get the kids off the boat, this thing’s going down, we’re gonna have to bail. He did a Mayday, dropped the radio and before you know it we were all in the water, the boat was flipped upside down. We never even got a confirmation that the Coast Guard heard that we were going down.”
“I told my youngest, I said jump overboard, he had his life vest on,” Lamonica said, as the others jumped off too. “Me and Eric were the last ones on the boat at that time and it started to list to the starboard side. I got on the radio, the last radio communication, and told Coast Guard I was going down and I was the last one to bail off the boat.”
The children, Arnett said, “were rock stars,” everyone holding it together, following directions, never complaining. They made sure to stay together and get as many people on top of the boat, maintaining the position. There was no fear: the focus was on priorities. “At this point, this is a life or death situation as a survival situation,” Arnett said. “If we make a mistake here, that is a life or death mistake. So just knowing there are kids on the boat, they were the priority, let’s make sure they’re safe, they’re in the best and most secure position that we have available, which is that upside down boat, so we got them up there, we got their father up there with them.”
But it was an open sea. No boats. Nothing but water.
Fear had no place just then. “At that point, you didn’t have time to sit around and get scared. It was, what’s the next move?” Arnett said. “It was more like what do I do to get through to the next step and you know, eventually, hopefully, getting picked up by somebody else and getting out of here. So I think we really didn’t have a lot of time for fear to set in. Honestly, it was almost like an adrenaline shock and survival mode where your mind or where your body and mind and everything are at. When I got home later that evening and I was laying in bed, I was looking at the video and looking at the pictures. And at that point, the fear and the magnitude of what we just went through really resonated with me a lot better after it was already said and done. But while it was happening, it was more of a, you know, I didn’t have time to be scared. It was more: What can I do to be safe?” (He has a new rule now: no more going offshore in a single-motor boat. It’ll have to have two.)
It was around then that Arnett played the Humpty Dance. The boat was floating, so Lamonica got his sons on the hull, and others held on. Terry, who is ex-military, had a GPS wristband, so he could read off coordinates, which he read to Arnett, who relayed them to his wife.
That went on for 15 to 20 minutes. Then it happened. “We saw a boat approaching from the north heading south,” Lamonica said. “So I said, everybody stand up, whoever can stand up and we’re waving. And finally we saw them start coming towards us.” For a moment there it seemed as if the boat was veering off. Arnett’s heart sank. He started thinking this could be one of those dashed hopes, like you see in movies. It wasn’t. The boat readjusted its course and headed on toward the six, when it became obvious they’d been spotted. The rescuers, who postponed their own snapper fishing, had heard about the Coast Guard call. The six sat on Southern Chaos until the Coast Guard boat arrived.
When the Coast Guard crew arrived, one of them gave a phone to one of Lamonica’s sons to play on, and Braden drove the boat for a while. “They were really good to my kids,” Lamonica said.
He called the loss of his boat–which was not insured–”devastating, But you know what,” he began to say, then broke down with emotion and had to pause. “It’s nothing. I mean, I can care less about that boat. Everybody is alive on the boat, so that’s all I care about. Everybody came home, it’s one hell of a story to tell, I didn’t even have insurance on the boat, which sucks, but you know what, everybody’s lives are more important than that boat. You can work for another boat, you can’t work for another life. You know what I mean? Always can replace another boat. Can’t replace somebody’s life.”
He added: “Yeah, it’s hit me hard and I think about it every day. I haven’t even slept that much in the last few nights.”
The boat is still out there, floating. Divers swam by it not long after the incident, and one of them managed to get underneath and retrieve some belongings. They found Eric’s wallet. They delivered it to him. “They just knocked on his door and said, Hey, are you Eric?” Arnett said, “and he’s like, Yeah. He goes, ‘Here, I dove your wreck, I got your wallet.’”
If there are any doubts that–for all the noise and acrimony on certain shores–the community is still an ocean of good Samaritans, the Kicking Back’s story should put them to rest.