Met the good captain at a good seafood diner on US1, had the great honor of presenting him with a very nicely framed Certificate of Merit, and buying him lunch. Captain Estey is just 28 years old, but has a remarkable 10 years of experience. It was his childhood dream to run a tow boat and he began at age 18, his first serious job. John is a big, strong guy from his years of hard work on the water and it sure paid off. He was also an avid kayaker and owned a Prowler 13 if I recall. His goal is to run his own fishing charters out of Ft. Lauderdale. After lunch we adjourned outside to conduct this interview...
I'm here with Captain John Estey, the man who just received our Award of Merit for his heroic act in rescuing a kayaker in distress in the Port Everglade's inlet. John, I'd like you tell about it in your own words - what happened that day? What were you doing and how did it all come about?
Alright, I was on my way into Port Everglades with a boat in tow, seen a bunch of kayakers in the inlet, tanker inbound, I was just ahead of him. Seen there was a guy hanging on the back of a kayak, struggling to get back, having his buddy paddle him back in - they were just heading offshore, not making any way.
So I went up and offered assistance to them, got the guy on the back of my boat. Havin a little trouble getting him on, in the meantime I was getting screamed at by the pilot boats and everybody else, cause there was a tanker coming in, getting ready to run us all over. So... got lucky, got him on the boat and got out of the way, before my tow or anybody got...
(Huge bolt of lightning and thunder hits nearby - drowning out his words).
(Laughing) Are you sure that was the truth?
I'm sure (laughing)!
Well anyway - so, uh, can you describe the guys in the water, the kayak - did you think this was appropriate?
Definitely not a good idea to be in a kayak that day - it was a pretty busy day (Saturday) and he was in the wrong type of kayak in the first place. He shoulda been in a sit-on-top or had a skirt on when he was in that boat (recreational SIK with large open cockpit). Well, not a safe situation he put himself in.
You talked to me earlier about the position of the tanker, what the tugs were doing. Can you talk about that?
I was trying to get him on board my vessel. The tugboats were trying to stop the ship.
Or at least slow him (the tanker) down. And they started turning him to the south and started... he was aimin for the (south) jetty. It was not a good situation for the ship at the time. He was gettin real close to that edge - it was gonna run him aground pretty quickly, tryin to get out of the way.
All I remember is lookin up and seein that tugboat throwin water everywhere - just tryin to stop him (the tanker).
So did it appear that all you guys were in the path of this armada?
Yes. They were pretty upset - they were screaming like crazy over Channel 16. And right after I got out of the way (with the capsize victim) the Coast Guard and everybody else started going nuts.
I recall you then accelerated with your tow out of the way?
Yeah as soon as I got him on the deck of my boat, I told him to hold on and we got out of the way. The pilots were trying to take my tow cause it was just gettin too close - within probably 75, maybe 100 feet tops from the ship.
You said this was an oil tanker?
Fuel or oil.
This was not a ship that was gonna be stopped?
They're not gonna stop it, no.
But they were able to cock it, stern to the north (cutting a huge swath down the channel)?To slow it down some.
But it wasn't about to stop?
Well, I think that tells the story. I want to thank you... and for (the opportunity to give you) this award.
Needless to say this was a great interview with a true hero, however short. I also had the great pleasure of buying John lunch and discussing this incident in great detail. He also shared his life as a Sea Tow captain, which was quite impressive. These guys risk their own lives everyday and consider rescues such as this just a routine part of their job. It was anything but, and we should all be thankful professionals like Captain John Estey are in our midst.
Hope ya enjoyed this page! For more incredibly satisfying info...Ft Lauderdale Yakfishing Club