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Parham Bridges: On His Last Hurrah?

Photo by Lisa Overing
Photo by Lisa Overing

“I think I’ll fix another drink before the ice melts,” recalls Parham Bridges when the engine went out on his yacht many years ago, southwest of Tampa. At 85, Bridges, a former marine, doesn’t worry about much and has never been the panicky type, even after rolling off the deck of his yacht, unnoticed, into the sprawling Gulf of Mexico in 1965.

“I’d just fixed breakfast for everyone and, with a full belly, I took a nap, fell asleep, and rolled off the boat when we hit a wave,” he says. “Then I woke up wet.”

Figuring it was a waste of precious energy to holler over the noise of the diesel engines that moved further away every second, Bridges surveyed his options while treading water without a life preserver. As he watched his boat obliviously continue on course without him, he nixed swimming to nearby Cat Island, opting to gamble on staying afloat in the channel until another boat might see him bobbing like a cork without a bottle.

He floated in the water for a very long time, and at one point, even practiced drowning.

“I wanted to know what it would feel like before it happened, in case no one ever found me. I dove down and held my breath, realizing that eventually, I might not have the strength or lung capacity to come back up.”

Bridges managed to survive until a Biloxi charter boat spotted him and scooped him up, right about the same time that his own yacht reported him missing.

A few years later, Bridges rode out Hurricane Camille on the same 35’ Chris Craft that abandoned him in 1965, rafted up with charter boats on Gulfport Lake.

“Boats are built to float; houses aren’t,” Bridges says about his questionable evacuation plan, and remained onboard until he was bored and tired of hearing the never-ending storm’s shrill.

“Unfortunately, the wind lasted longer than the whiskey did,” he smirks.

In 2005, at the age of 80, he rode out Hurricane Katrina on his present vessel, an 83-foot Cheoy Lee, M/Y Last Hurrah, behind the beach bridge in Pensacola Bay, well east of the brunt of that storm. While Bridges had a slip to go to, a sailboat swiped it and ended up in the woods about 300 yards north of the marina.

So is this aptly named Cheoy Lee really this spunky, Southern gentleman’s last hurrah? While it gets great fuel economy at hull speed, his spaciously comfortable vessel with four staterooms plus captain and crew quarters is for sale, but, oddly, the brokerage listing on YachtWorld.com indicates that Bridges will consider trades.

“With a boat like this, you can’t retire,” Bridges says, adding that he frequently entertains business guests on his boat and still runs it himself, until toddy time, that is. Last Hurrah safely holds up to 60 revelers at one time. Just don’t let the ice melt.

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