FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — No one is calling it a whopper, but the tale of a blue marlin that supposedly capsized a boat off the Boynton Beach Inlet has left a few raised eyebrows.
Five men were rescued Saturday morning by a nearby catamaran and all were unhurt. They told their rescuers their 31-foot pleasure craft sank when the big fish pulled the vessel backward and caused it to take on water before it sank.
The U.S. Coast Guard picked the men up from the catamaran’s crew and identified the survivors as Gordon Morrison, Dan and Kevin McWhorter, Nick Veselica and Max McKelvy. The agency did not release ages or addresses for the men and is not investigating the circumstances of their sinking, a spokesman said.
But local captains and seasoned seafarers said a marlin — or any other fish for that matter — could not sink a boat. The cause is more likely human error while trying to catch a game fish that is not an everyday find, they said.
Three of the fishermen could not be reached for comment Monday, and Veselica and Kevin McWhorter declined to comment when reached by phone.
“The fish itself is attached to a fishing rod. It’s not going to pull a boat under,” said Robert “Fly” Navarro, tournament director for the Blue Marlin World Cup based in West Palm Beach. “A blue marlin is not going to attack the boat and say, ‘Oh my God, this boat is causing me pain.’”
Saturday’s seas were choppy and the National Weather Service had issued a small craft advisory at the time the fishermen got into trouble off the Boynton Beach Inlet. Winds were forecast at 20 to 33 knots — 23 to 38 mph — with waves of 7 feet or greater. The advisory covered the area between the Jupiter Inlet south to Deerfield Beach and was in effect from 1 a.m. Saturday to 10 a.m. Sunday.
Navarro and other captains believe the fishermen may have tried to drive the boat in reverse to keep the marlin from breaking off the line. Big waves could have then broken onto the back of the boat, flooding it with enough force and weight to submerge it, said Bouncer Smith, a charter sportfishing captain in Miami Beach.
The marlin shouldn’t get the blame for sinking the boat, he said.
“It would more than likely be caused because the marlin distracted the fishermen and they were paying more attention to the marlin than the waves,” Smith said. “It could happen in the blink of an eye.”
Another possible scenario: If the fish was already dead and it was being dragged onto the boat, the fishermen could have miscalculated the weight of the marlin and the crew, causing the small vessel to flip, Navarro said.
Navarro said blue marlin off South Florida’s coast could average 100 to 300 pounds. But it’s also the height of sailfish season, and smaller, more plentiful fish could have easily been mistaken for a marlin.
Gary Bacon, a Deerfield Beach charter fishing captain, had a slightly different take on what could have played out. The fishermen were probably equipped to catch sailfish and didn’t expect a bigger blue marlin to bite, he said.
When they encountered the bigger catch, they wanted to make sure they reeled it in and likely backed up for it without realizing their vessel’s pumping system couldn’t keep up.
“Those guys were more likely sailfishing and a blue marlin jumped on them,” he said. “If you’re not paying attention to the fish, not realizing the pump can’t keep up, you can sink real fast. It only takes one wave to sink it.”