Nelson McIntosh

Nelson McIntosh visits with his sisters Ruth (right) and Marb in the hospital on Oct. 8, 1986. Brad Nettles/Staff

In 1986, Nelson McIntosh was in his 35-foot powerboat crossing between the Bahamas and Florida when a storm hit and he lost power.

“The boat just fell apart, and I started to drift,” he recalled.

Day after day passed. Waves swamped the boat. He had almost nothing to eat.  

“The hardest thing was not to drink the seawater.”

He collected rainwater when he could, using a seat cushion to soak it up. The September sun was brutal.

He thought about his past and some things he wasn’t proud of, he recalled.

“I’m sure I made promises to be better.”

Weeks passed.

“I had no idea where I was.”

Fifty-one days later, Dale Lackey was in the Gulf Stream fishing with his family for blue marlin and sailfish.

“I saw something that looked kind of strange,” Lackey said. “I circled around and saw a partially submerged boat.” Dolphins swam around it. “We got closer, and the guy almost looked dead — skin and bones.”

When they brought him on board, McIntosh asked for a beer.

“I was a pretty big beer drinker back in the day.” 

Lackey said they gave him water and Cokes instead. A Coast Guard helicopter soon was on the scene and airlifted McIntosh to the Medical University of South Carolina in downtown Charleston. By then, he’d lost about 80 pounds.

Lackey and McIntosh stayed in touch and remain friends. McIntosh’s life changed dramatically after that trip, and today he’s a pastor on Abaco Island in the Bahamas.

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For a deeper dive into the Gulf Stream and the amazing and disturbing things happening to it, visit our new special report: Into the Gulf Stream

Reach Tony Bartelme at 843-937-5554. Follow him on Twitter @tbartelme.

Tony Bartelme is senior projects reporter for The Post and Courier. He has earned national honors from the Nieman, Scripps, Loeb and National Press foundations and is a three-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Reach him at 843-937-5554 and @tbartelme