“What are you doing on my boat?”
The year was 2001. It was a hot summer in Destin, Florida, and many strange alignments occurred that led me there.
There used to be a restaurant and bar called Harry T’s located right on Highway 98 in Destin. I was told to call the bar manager in early spring about a potential job as a bartender. A friend of mine from Washington, DC, had given me a great recommendation to the bar manager. I had also just finished up a winter season at Copper Mountain, Colorado, and one of the servers spent her summers in Destin and also knew the bar manager. I was hired over the phone.
What a summer that was. That place had to be one of the most exciting and busiest places I had ever worked. I ended up moving in with some coworkers from the restaurant that was a few miles away by car. Harry T’s was situated on the bay on the Intracoastal Waterway. There was a harbor behind the restaurant that looked out toward a peninsula called Holiday Isle. That was where we lived for the summer — across the bay on the peninsula. If one were to swim, it would be a little over a half mile from where we lived.
That was exactly what our dumb drunk antics led us to do. After working a busy shift at the restaurant, my coworkers and I were in the habit of having a few after work drinks and then going barhopping.
One night after an evening of heavy drinking, the kitchen manager, also my roommate, decided that he was going to swim home from Harry T’s, all the way home to Holiday Isle peninsula. He made it home. No problem. A few nights after this drunken swim-a-thon, I was at Harry T’s having some cocktails with coworkers and a gaggle of women. That was when I started saying to myself that if the kitchen manager could swim home, so could I.
Now, I am a decent swimmer. After all, I was a lifeguard on the South Jersey shore for eleven summers. However, after drinking what I drank that night, I could barely walk. So here is a word of advice. If you are too drunk to walk, do not swim.
I stripped down to my boxer shorts, placed my clothes, wallet, and keys on the wheel of my car in the parking lot, and proceeded to the end of the dock. I vaguely remember a coworker and a few girls accompanying me toward the edge of the dock. They were all pleading with me not to do this because I was too drunk, which in my mind was more of a challenge.
Splash. And I was off ! I was swimming. And swimming. And swimming. Gradually, I swam slower. And slower. Then I did the sidestroke. After about twenty minutes, barely even close to the middle, I was exhausted. I could barely see the lights of the peninsula. I tried to touch bottom to catch my breath. Not a good idea as my head completely submerged, and I began to choke and cough up the nasty bay water. All around was total darkness, black skies with no stars, and an even scarier shade of black in the water.
At this point, I had a sober moment and thought to myself, I am going under. I am too drunk, and I can’t make it. Just then, off to my left, I saw a big boat moored to some floating buoys. With every last bit of energy, I swam to the boat, climbed up to catch my breath, and saved myself from tomorrow’s headlines. I must have made the loudest noises trying to heave myself up onto that big boat. Suddenly, all the lights on the boat turned on. What I didn’t know was that it was a houseboat anchored in the middle of the harbor.
Here came this guy running at me as I was gasping for breath and trying to explain that I was dying out there. My boxer shorts were hanging down past my knees as I realized he was not listening, and he began to chase me with either an umbrella pole or a broom handle. I was not too sure what he had in his hands. All I knew was that it was going to hurt when he hit me with it. He was also yelling to his wife, “Honey, call the coast guard! Call the coast guard!”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Honey with a phone the size of a military device phoning the troops. I somehow shucked and jived past all this mayhem and ran towards the bow of the boat. I remember yelling something back like, “I am out of here, you guys are mean!” And with that, I launched into a swan dive to splash back into the bay. I jumped high in the air with both arms back and a perfect back arch. I swear I could have earned a 9.5 in the Olympics with this swan dive. Splat!
It wasn’t the bow of the boat. It was the stern. And when I dove off, I only succeeded in landing on the lower deck on the bait wells. At that point I was wincing in pain and the couple had stopped chasing me and stopped calling for help as they watched me in disbelief. I rolled over about twenty times and finally splashed into the water where I resumed my death swim.
Don’t ask me how, but thirty minutes after interrupting this poor couple’s relaxing slumber, I made it to where I could touch bottom. I must have over-swam my destination by about six blocks, because I found myself running down the street thinking the military was coming to take me away. Looking back on the road, all I saw was wet footprints and heard the sound of splashing as I ran with bare feet to the back door of our apartment.
After about twelve hours of sleep, I woke up naked and sore as hell. Every muscle in my body ached and throbbed with tightness and soreness. A few weeks later, I heard a story from one of the day bartenders at Harry T’s that the house- boat couple had been in having lunch and had recounted the horror story of how a crazy, maniac pirate swam out to their boat in the middle of the harbor at 2:00 a.m., woke them up, and did a swan dive onto the lower deck. In my defense, the bartender had said something like, “Oh my God, that was Johnny. He is harmless. He just decided to swim home and almost died.”
So here’s a prime example of how booze made me feel like Michael Phelps and led me to bad and dangerous decisions.
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