Local captain’s story floats hope to students


Dave Brechtel

Journalism advisor Fara Wiles and reporter Alyssa Libasci say goodbye to author and survivor, Captain Johnny Savage, after his presentation to journalism class during Founder’s Week, March 9, 2023.

Cancun called. Do not let any boats out. 

The call came too late. Captain Eric Bingham and first mate Johnny Savage were already out to sea. 

The duo left port in Key West, Florida early in the morning, headed across the gulf stream to Cancun for a fishing competition. 

The pair agreed. Nothing ever happens during the day. 

Smooth sailing and sunny, the pair relaxed among the gentle waves. The boat bobbed up and down endlessly. Up. Down. Up. Down. It never came back up. 

“In the past, it was a mariner’s myth. It was like Bigfoot,” said Johnny Savage.  

Rogue waves, called ‘extreme storm waves’ by scientists, are very unpredictable waves which are greater than twice the size of surrounding waves and often move unexpectedly from different directions than the usual waves and winds, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

The boat fell, the wave seemingly endless. 

“I braced myself. Boats go back up. I was waiting for the feeling of going back up. It never came,” said Savage. 

At the bottom of the wave, the boat cracked in half. The two raced against time. 

“As mariners, our first line of defense is mayday,” said Savage. 

Ninety nautical miles at sea, the two were stranded as the two halves of the ship sank. The two of them soon became the only things floating. They clung to each other, and begged God for mercy. 

Mercy came slowly. Objects escaped the wrecked halves and trickled their way to the surface. A Yeti Cooler. Johnny’s broken surfboard. Lifejackets. Hours passed between each object, yet all of them were considered blessings.

Over the hours, Savage took his surfboard out. He swam, searching for a way to radio their distress. Exhaustion, fear and hypothermia weighed down on him. Finally, he caved. 

“You’re gonna drown or get ripped apart by sharks. Drown or get ripped apart by sharks,” said Savage. “I figured I’m at peace out here. If I was gonna go out, I was gonna go out on my terms.” 

Just as he prepared to give up, warmth flooded Savage, and a voice murmured, “Pick your line and paddle it.” 

Rejuvenated, Savage paddled back to his captain, and a fishing boat arrived shortly after to save them. 

This happened 30 years ago. Savage knew he had to share his story. He wrote his novel, Lost In The Stream, depicting his story. Describing his fear, his anxiety and his attempt. His novel reached astounding heights, including a bestseller in coping with suicide grief. 

“That’s what matters to me, coping with suicide grief,” said Savage. “I know of four suicides in process that were stopped from this story.”