Local Boaters Find Stranded Vessel’s Owners


Safe at Sea

This week has brought an abundance of touching stories about neighbors helping neighbors here on Fort Myers Beach. Most of us can’t count the number of times we’ve been asked if all was well. This story is about some beach residents who reached out in an unusual way to welcome and assist a couple that ended up on the beach without ever really trying to.

Michelle and Lee McGinnis are cruisers, meaning they live on their boat S/V Second Chance, a 45-foot Gulfstar sailboat based in Key West. As Hurricane Irma approached, they headed up the Gulf coast toward Boca Grande where they hoped to ride out the storm.

stranded sailboat, fort myers beach
At high tide on Saturday, one boat pulled it on its side.

Unfortunately, the boat developed engine trouble and lost the head sail in one of Irma’s outer bands. As time ran out, they had to leave their boat and were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard near Boca Grande.

Sometime during the storm the boat, aptly named, “Second Chance” by a previous owner, was blown onto Fort Myers Beach near the Hercules beach access where it drew a lot of attention lying on its side during low tide.

Then while on its side the second boat pulled her out to sea…

Not sure they’d ever see it again, the McGinnis’ were surprised to see a photo of the boat posted by Renee Jeffreys Heil of Fort Myers Beach on the Facebook account “All Things Sailing.”

Renee Jeffreys Heil and her wife, Megan knew they had to reach out and try to find the owner of the boat once they saw it sitting forlornly on the sand. “Once we knew that all of our friends on the island were ok and didn’t need our help, we knew we had to try to find the sailboat’s owner. This was someone’s house,” said Renee.

Boat owners themselves, Renee and Megan dream of becoming cruisers on a sailboat and sailing around the world someday, Renee explained, and they follow a number of sailing pages on Facebook. After posting a photo of the boat and an explanation on a few pages, Renee said it only took about a half hour to identify the current owners, Michelle and Lee McGinnis. They then began to plan how to get them to Fort Myers Beach and help them get the boat off the sand bar.

High Tide & Two Boats

The McGinnis’ made their way to Fort Myers Beach the next day and were welcomed by a group of Islanders that were sharing meals and post-Irma cleanup work.

Where she floats free! Photos by M. Layfield

The Heil’s have a membership in TowBoat US, which recently came in handy when their own engine failed offshore and suggested contacting them but Lee McGinnis decided to try to pull it off the sand bar himself and by Friday night, Lee and some local boaters had a plan: High tide and two boats on Saturday morning.

About 10:15am Saturday, the first boat pulled the mast to port, freeing the keel so that the second boat would be able to pull her to deeper water. After about 10-15 minutes of effort, the Second Chance floated free to the applause of a couple dozen Islanders who had been watching from shore.

McGinnis reported afterwards that the boat seemed to avoid any serious structural damage. They hoped to take the boat back to the Tampa area where they have family.

Renee later reflected on the adventure of finding the boat’s owners and along with a group of friends, assisting them with housing and meals and introducing them to other boat owners, who eventually helped to free the boat – all in the midst of post-hurricane cleanup.

“I’m glad it all turned out the way it did. It’s unfortunate that our effort would be seen as unusual. We should all be willing to help each other, all the time.”


Missy Layfield

A video of freeing the boat can be found at bit.ly/SailboatFMB courtesy of Megan Heil.