Phantom Boat Makes Waves

Dated: 11/09/2017

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SANDESTIN — It was a spooky sight — a sailboat with nobody on board floating just offshore last Thursday.

Its sails were ripped, it was listing to one side and it was heading straight toward the crowded beach. Its name was Phantom of the Aqua.

Beach service crews with Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort spotted the vessel and hopped on a parasailing boat to check it out. What they found was “eerie,” according to Jason Draughn, activities director at the resort.

“The first thing the beach guys were saying was, ‘This is creepy. It’s a phantom boat and the name is Phantom of the Aqua,’” Draughn said. “Inside it was like everything was thrown around. Their minds started going places. Was the captain murdered by pirates? Why would a boat just be sailing by itself?”

The answer turned out not to be as sinister, but the boat still had quite the story etched into its battered wooden frame. John Hale, a boat captain from Gulfport near St. Petersburg, eventually was identified as its owner.

Speaking to the Daily News by phone from Ohio on Tuesday morning, Hale said he had been attempting to sail the boat from his home to his previous home in the U.S. Virgin Islands to deliver food, medicine and supplies to the islands after they were battered by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

“I’m very capable. I’ve made that trip multiple times,” Hale said.

But strong winds and rough seas propelled by storms in the tropics destroyed his sails. So he used his motor to head back to Gulfport, where he was going to try to patch his sails so he could continue his journey.

But a newly formed tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico had different ideas.

“Hurricane Nate was in the Gulf at that point, but I kept sailing. Everything was going well,” Hale said. “And then my sail broke at sea, and at that point I didn’t have a sail and I didn’t have an engine and I didn’t have direction. So I was just drifting. I pulled out my map and in nine days I would have landed in Mexico, which would not have been an ideal outcome.”

The new hurricane destroyed what was left of his backup sails and rendered his engine useless. Hale said he had no other choice but to call the Coast Guard, which rescued him from the raging sea with a helicopter. He left the Phantom of the Aqua behind, sure it was going to be destroyed in the hurricane.

That made the phone call he received last Thursday all the more surprising.

“I flew to Ohio, and when I landed I got a call from the guys at Sandestin Resort,” Hale said. “They said, ‘Hey is this the owner of the Phantom of the Aqua?’ ”

Hale said he was floored when he realized his boat had made it through the storm. He even made plans to catch a flight to Destin to retrieve it.

However, over the weekend 6-foot swells cut the boat loose from its anchor and it floated several miles down the beach. It now is aground near the Whale’s Tail restaurant in Miramar Beach.

Hale canceled his flight and said he is trying to make arrangements to assess the damage and eventually retrieve it, but for now he is going to head to the U.S. Virgin Islands by plane to continue the mission to deliver provisions to victims of Irma and Maria.

“It’s been a ride; I don’t know what else to say,” Hale said. “I personally believe that everything happens for a reason. ... What this purpose is, I have no idea.”

Source: Northwest Florida Daily News

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