‘Phantom’ boat washed ashore in Sandestin has story to tell

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“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?”

Annie Blanks @DestinLogAnnie

SANDESTIN —It was a spooky sight — a sailboat with nobody on board, spotted floating just off the beach at Sandestin last Thursday.

Its sails were ripped, it was listing to one side and it was heading straight towards the crowded beach, with no captain at the wheel. 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.

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“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, Florida, was eventually identified as the owner of the boat.

Speaking to the Daily News by phone from Ohio on Tuesday morning, Hale explained he had been attempting to sail the boat from his home in Gulfport, Florida 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, using his motor he turned around to head back towards Gulfport, where he was going to attempt to patch up 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 U.S. Coast Guard, who came to his rescue via helicopter and plucked him out of the raging sea. 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 into Destin to retrieve his boat.

However, over the weekend, six-foot swells and rough seas cut the boat loose from its anchor and it floated several miles down shore. It is currently beached in Miramar Beach, near the Whale’s Tail restaurant.

Hale cancelled his flight and said he is trying to make arrangements to assess the damage to the boat and eventually retrieve it, but for now he is going to head to the U.S. Virgin Islands via plane to continue the mission he originally started and deliver provisions to people affected by Hurricanes 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.”

Map:

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Video of boat owner while on his boat during Hurricane Irma:

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