Gilland: An unforgettable boating adventure

Several years ago, my friend Tom and I joined with several other buddies for a camping, fishing, and boating weekend that turned into an unexpected adventure. It was at a well-known campground near St. Petersburg, right off the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico.

Our problems during that trip happened when we first arrived at the campground. We found that, quite unexpectedly, there were no campsites for our large group. It was very unusual for this to happen, but the park warden said he could not accommodate us.

We got together to decide what we were going to do, whether we should abandon the plans, take our boats and drive home. That is when our weekend organizer came up with Plan B. He was aware of several barrier islands off the coast. Now, the camping would be different there—no electricity, no restroom facilities…but an adventure, for sure. We all decided that the “Plan B” idea was a go.

I could probably write a book on the crazy things that happened that weekend, but none would be as memorable as our boat trip to Egmont Key the next day. This beautiful island has a rich history, including serving as a camp for captured Seminoles during the Third Seminole War.

During the Spanish-American War, a fort was built on the island, and it was active until 1923. Now, it is an incredible wildlife refuge. It sits as the last bit of land in that area, with the expanse of the Gulf waters stretching westward.

It is also an amazing place to fish! And that is what we had in mind. To get to Egmont Key, you have to take your boat through the deep waters of the shipping channel, and on our way out, that itself proved to be a great experience as we had to pause and wait for a gigantic cargo ship to pass.

Once it passed, we motored all the way to the western end of Egmont, and then the fishing began. It was a beautiful thing, surpassed only by the brilliant blue sky of that warm Florida day.

We were catching fish right and left for over an hour, when I noticed that the other boat’s captain was pulling anchor. I asked him why, and he pointed upward, in the direction behind us. As I looked up behind me, I was shocked to see that our blue sky had turned ominously black.

“Where did that come from? How did that come up so quickly?” Those were the questions that rose in my mind as we too began to pull anchor, and get ready for the five-mile return trip to our island.

By the time that we reached the shipping channel, gone were the glass-like waters of the Gulf of Mexico. We were looking at 6 to 8 foot waves, with a black sky and rain. My boat was the smaller of the two, only 14 feet in length.

I had never faced a situation like this, and it took every skill I knew about boating. Waves were crashing over the hull, and at times, when we were in the valley of the swells, we couldn’t even see the other boat that was 100 feet ahead of us.

Tom and I were praying and fighting waves all the way through that channel, until we finally got to the barrier islands. We had taken on a lot of water, but my motor never stalled, and I was so grateful. I was deeply aware of how differently that day could have ended.

Every time I think back to that experience, I am reminded of a Scripture verse found in Isaiah:

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” ~ Isaiah 43:2 ESV

I am grateful that the Lord was right there with us as we passed through those waters. Today, if you find yourself overwhelmed by the “waves of the storm” that you experiencing, take heart and grab hold of the promise of God. He will see you through.

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