A setting sun casts a warm glow on the 90-foot trawler, Caroline C, as she rests peacefully on her mooring at the mouth of the Manatee River. Years of neglect and the effects of the tropical climate are evident as paint fades into rust. Stories of the sea have captivated many old salts and landlubbers alike, and the old ship has her own stories to tell.
As I pass off the bow in my own sailboat, I am reminded that I was once part of the Caroline C's adventures. In 2002, I photographed a mission of mercy that was launched to reach the stranded Brazilian freighter, Neptunia Mediterraneo. The tiny ship and crew battled 8-foot seas for more than eight hours to make the 21-mile trip from Palmetto into the Gulf of Mexico. Waves crashed over the high bow, sending salt spray over the deck and shudders throughout the Caroline C, which was heavy with food, water and supplies. Reaching our destination, the captain, Eric Jackson, brought Caroline C abeam of the freighter, only to be hit by the waves, crashing the vessel into the starboard side of the ship, sending shockwaves of stressed metal reverberating through the hull.
Several attempts were made to transfer supplies, but with little to no success. The rough water won the battle, and with deep disappointment the Caroline C turned her stern to the following sea and limped back to her home port, so close and yet so far. The adrenalin high of a rescue became sorrow. It was a feeling that could be felt throughout the boat, when a mariner fails in an attempt to help another mate of the sea.
But the story does not stop there. One week later, the ship and her crew reached the Neptunia Mediterraneo, delivering 1,300 gallons of water, hundreds of pounds of produce and canned goods. Like an old soldier returning home battle-worn, the old trawler has her stories and adventures, and I was fortunate be part of at least one.