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East Fourteen & Fifteen

East Fourteen & Fifteen

Like the movie The Gladiator, today the Gator Bowl Press box sits upright on the bottom of the sea watching the grouper and snapper doing battle to the death with the sharks and the barracudas. The press box is exactly that, where the press reported during all the football games and sporting events. At that time, the City of Jacksonville had no Jaguars, and didn’t even have a football team. The big event for the Gator bowl was the Florida Georgia game. The first time the Gator Bowl was dismantled, the press box was saved for the Jacksonville Shipyards to turn into office space.

It was a cold winter day and Bud White as a member of the JOSFC, the captain on a 42-foot vessel headed offshore for the purpose of building a reef. He was accompanied by 2 divers. They stopped at what they thought would be the right to put the press box. Two divers went into the water to check out the bottom. They reported that it was live bottom and the water was too shallow for the 15-20 foot tall sections of the press box. The water temperature was about 50 degrees.

At EF, only one diver went in because he was the only one that wore a dry suit and who could stand the cold water. Meanwhile, the tugboat and barge with the four sections of the press box hanging 10 to 15 feet over the edges of the barge hovered nearby. This gave it a resemblance to a biplane flying very low on the surface. The weather was starting to blow up and because of the poor communications with Capt. Bud and the tugboat captain, two sections were dropped with the diver on the bottom. The diver was experiencing his own problems. The visibility was 12 to 18 inches. He found the bottom by bumping into it. He swam along the bottom and something latched onto his right heel. This was his turning point. He started to the surface. The visibility was still real poor, but he noticed that the water around him was getting darker and darker.

He made it to the surface and all kinds of large pieces of timber were shooting out of the water. Several of them almost skewered him. The dark shadow was the 2 sections of the press box on their way down while he was on his way up. Getting into the boat was a challenge to his physical ability because of the rough seas. Looking down at his right heel, he found a 2 foot Moray eel which latched on to his bootie. Now the weather blew up harder—4 to 5 foot seas.

Two more sections went off with no control from any of the crew members. Capt. Bud called the tug captain and told him he had to go back to shore. Captain Bud put the boat on auto pilot and went down below to smoke a cigar and eat pizza and play cards in rough seas. One of the divers could not take the current conditions of eating pizza and playing cards in rough seas, so he returned topside to see that the seas were 6 to 7 feet. Noticing the anchor rope was not secure at the bow, he made his way and secured the rope and on the way back he slipped overboard. Grabbing a cleat and hanging on he yelled for help, which seemed like an eternity. A rogue wave hit him and threw him back in the boat. He went down below to explain to the crew what happened. They wouldn’t have believed him except that his clothes were soaking wet.

Bud White was talking to some fishermen on the radio. They wanted to know who was responsible for putting the press box in the place it was at because they wanted to hang him.

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