Lost: 52-foot yacht. Name: “Just Us.” Last seen at Dock C-2 on the Caloosahatchee River in downtown Fort Myers.
“I can’t find my boat,” owner Tom Downs said early Thursday morning as he searched a marina destroyed by Hurricane Ian. “I found all my friends’ boats but I can’t find mine.”
He climbed over the wreckage of dozens of boats carried ashore Wednesday by 6 to 8 feet of storm surge generated by Category 4 Ian. They were deposited in a jumble in the parking lot of Joe’s Crab Shack and adjacent streets, cast by 140 mph winds into a landlocked state.
Their turbulent journey ripped open hulls, snapped masts, severed engines. Scattered on the ground or hung up in the branches of fallen trees were rudders, anchors, railings, sails and seat cushions.
“A mess, accented by the wonderful aroma of diesel fuel,” Downs said. The scene was reminiscent of Miami’s post-Irma shoreline in 2017, when the surge from Biscayne Bay tore boats from their moorings and pushed them onto barrier islands, people’s yards and city streets.
“I’m afraid it sank,” Downs concluded with a wistful grimace.
“It was a 52-foot Jefferson motor yacht. I sailed it all the way down here from Minnesota in 2019. This was our first hurricane.”
Downs lives in Cape Coral and was praying his house in the low-lying community was not flooded. He rode out Ian from a friend’s 12th-floor condo overlooking the marina, where he had a bird’s eye view of the demolition derby that ensued on the river.
“The wind blew in from the west and within minutes you could see the surge lifting all the boats and entire dock sections off the pilings,” he said. “We watched the boats crashing and crushing each other.
“You’ve got a 100,000-pound boat that was how powerful the surge was.”
Downs said he got a bad feeling when the Coast Guard contacted him at 6 p.m. Wednesday as Ian slowly departed Florida’s Gulf Coast.
“We’ve got an emergency transponder on board and they called me to say they had received an alert,” he said. “I told them we were not on the boat, we were not overboard, we were safe. I’m going to keep looking but it’s probably at the bottom of the river.”