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Boaters urged to guard against swarming bees; Coast Guard called on

By Staff | May 27, 2008

Enjoying a day off from running his very busy restaurant, Eric Zeisloft decided to take a well-earned fishing trip with a good friend. Little did he and Al Perez know when leaving the docks in St. James City, the two angers would soon be facing a bizarre and frightening experience waiting in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We were about three miles offshore and prepared to drop anchor when all of a sudden we started noticing bees buzzing around the boat,” said Zeisloft, owner of Woody’s Waterside Restaurant. “Before we knew it, the number of bees increased to the thousands and we had no way of getting rid of them.

Fortunately, Al’s boat has an air-conditioned cabin and we quickly went for cover hoping the bees would move on. When they didn’t leave, we knew we had to do something,” he continued. “We were able to lift the anchors but couldn’t start the boat because the throttle was up on the tower and neither one of us could get to it without the threat of getting repeatedly stung, so we called the Coast Guard for help.

The boat belonging to Perez is a 35 Mainship Convertible.

According to Zeisloft, the Coast Guard appeared to be reluctant to send help.

They kept asking us if there was a hive in the boat somewhere that we should remove,” Zeisloft said. “We told them that the boat is used and cleaned every day and that there was no hive when we left the dock. He also seemed as though he thought we were calling about just a couple of bees and we had to keep explaining that there were literally thousands.

Perez is also a certified member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary and knew that their call might be met with skepticism.

The guys from the Coast Guard thought we were crazy and nobody wanted to believe us, but I was there and it was real,” said Perez. “It was really weird. At first I thought they were only love bugs, but the next thing we knew there were more and more of them. We are very fortunate, I only got three stings and Eric got one on his foot.

When Perez was asked for his GPS coordinates, he was not able to comply.

I told them that the GPS was up on the fly bridge and I wasn’t about to go up there, but I did know our general proximity to the Sanibel lighthouse and they were able to locate us,” Perez said. “Another lessoned learned — it is important to always be aware of where you are in case of an emergency and equipment failure.

Eventually a Coast Guard vessel appeared with a three-man crew in a 42-foot fire boat.

Right away we could see the shock on the faces of the Coast Guard crew. They couldn’t believe what they were seeing as there was literally a thick cloud of bees surrounding the boat by the time they arrived,” Zeisloft said. “They quickly manned their powerful hoses to rid the boat of bees and as we sat in the cabin, as the water began knocking the bees down, a shower of bees poured down the windshield.

“When most of the bees were on the deck, we would run out and stomp on as many as we could before they could dry off and take flight again,” said Zeisloft. “This took several attempts to get rid of all of the bees but finally we would be on our way. In the meantime, the angry bees began attacking the guys on the Coast Guard boat as well and I’m sure that is when they really took our call for help serious.”

“As the bees began to disappear, I looked over at the Coast Guard boat and saw one guy holding the hose with one and and swatting with the other. The other guy was using both hands to shoo the bees and was trying to keep the boat straight at the same time,” said Perez. “I could tell they were now believers.”

Perez thought that perhaps the bees were attracted to a noise coming from his boat.

“I have read that killer bees are attracted to humming noises and it occurred to me that I had left the blowers on in the engine compartment and I think that is what drew them to the boat and kept them hanging around,” said Perez. “There were so many of them that when I got home and cleaned the boat there were still hundreds of them dead on the deck and on the canvas. It was one of the strangest things I have ever seen.”

A boat engine blower is used for ventilation purposes in the engine compartment of boats with inboard motors.

Zeisloft had one piece of advice to pass on to other boaters.

“I don’t know if they were a variety of African killer bees or not, but I wasn’t willing to expose myself to hundreds of stings. I tell everyone that I see now that if they are out on the water and see anything out of the ordinary, pick up your anchor and move right away. It’s not worth the risk of hanging around to see what’s going to happen.”