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  • Writer's pictureMichael Gray

Making the Journey

Capt. Thomas Toler, the author of The Dog That Saved Me, tells what it was like to make a harrowing journey across the gulf during a massive storm.

We all believe technology is good enough to predict the weather accurately.

And for the most part, it is. But there is always a 10 percent chance that anything can pop up anytime. That’s what I experienced in the Gulf of Mexico on a clear January afternoon—a 10-percent storm.

The trip started out with calm seas and a good breeze. There was nothing in the weather reports to indicate a problem on the horizon. It looked like smooth sailing all the way to Clearwater, Florida.

My trusty dog, Duke, stood at my side, comfortable, swaying side to side with the lazy swells. He had months of experience on this boat. It was like a second home to him. Plus, he could supervise me for a change.

But a few hours in, the breeze picked up and the clouds formed.

I still didn’t suspect a thing.

When the waves grew larger, I began to worry. Still, it was manageable.

Another hour in and the waves splashed over the deck. The increased strain on the twin propellers had me concerned. It was then that one of the propellers broke. I couldn’t tell if it was a blade or spindle, but clearly, I had no thrust from the starboard engine.

I checked the panel for any problems with the engine. Nothing.

I tapped on the panel to make sure it worked. Nothing.

Duke’s ears pricked as he sensed my worry. “We’ll be all right,” I told him. “We’ll make it.”

Suddenly, a wave crashed over the flybridge above me.

It had been large enough to capsize us. That’s when I picked up the radio and called for help.

I called for ten minutes. But no one replied.

With nothing left to do, I hit the red emergency button and sent out a worldwide distress. I hoped that would do the trick.

Unfortunately, the mechanic back in port had not hooked it up. He’d also mangled the radio. I wanted to drop to my knees, but I had to keep my hands on the wheel. If we turned broadside into a large wave, we’d be at the bottom of the sea. It would take a miracle to get out of this mess. It turned out, all I needed was Duke.

Author Bio: After twenty-eight good years with American Airlines, Captain Tom Toler retired in 2004. In 2006, the U.S. Coast Guard swore him in when he earned his Master of Steam or Motor Vessels of not more than 100 Tons Upon or Near Coastal Waters. He spent the next ten years traveling all over America’s lakes, rivers, and coasts. After fifty years of life in the skies and on the water, Captain Tom came back to land where he spends his time giving speeches and meeting with book clubs and other groups. You can contact Captain Tom at And you can purchase the book on Amazon at this link: #Storm_At_Sea #Dog_Saved_Life


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