SUN PHOTO/MIKE FIELD
A group of visitors from New Jersey bundle up to fend off
temperatures in the 40s and winds gusting to 30 mph
as they walkthe beach in Anna Maria.
Wild winter weather pounded land and sea early this week, fouling a rescue attempt in the Gulf and keeping refugees from northern snowstorms bundled up in their winter clothes.
With nighttime temperatures dancing around the freezing mark, days in the 50s and 20 m.p.h. winds gusting into the 30s, beachgoers wore hoodies and boots instead of bikinis and flipflops.
Holiday meals were enjoyed mostly indoors at places like the BeachHouse restaurant in Bradenton Beach, whose New Year's Eve fireworks display planned for Friday night is dependent on weather, according to manager Mike Shannon.
Over the weekend, the wind blew plastic lawn chairs, trash can lids and rain gutters around neighborhoods, and uprooted heavily anchored swim zone buoys, scattering them around the Gulf.
Double red flags at the beach drew surfers to rare overhead waves on Sunday, and West Coast Surf Shop in Holmes Beach had trouble keeping up with the demand for booties, hoods and gloves, Ronee Brady said.
A kiteboarder had equipment trouble on Monday and cut loose his kite, which flew down Bradenton Beach with brisk northwesterly winds, prompting a concerned beachgoer to call police.
Lifeguards found the kiteboarder safe on the beach, Manatee County Marine Rescue Division Chief Jay Moyles said, adding that the cold has kept most people out of the water.
He advises saving water-related Christmas presents for warmer weather, wearing flotation devices in the water if you can't wait, and paying attention to the weather.
High seas drama
On Sunday, wild weather thwarted a dramatic attempt to tow a stranded commercial fishing boat to Cortez.
Capt. James "Junior" Baker of the Miss Rebecca was heading home to Cortez due to the weather when he heard a call for help over the radio from the Angler out of Fishbusterz in Madeira Beach, fishing for grouper a few miles away.
Capt. Mark Lowe had run out of fuel.
"Instead of leaving him stuck out there for that big blow, I elected to tow him in," Baker said. But as the two boats approached Longboat Pass, 6-to 8-foot waves and high winds and currents kept them from entering.
"We had the engine as high as it would possibly go but we were going backwards a half mile an hour," Baker said.
Capt. Kathe Fannon of Cortez saw Baker come up on the channel marker.
"They were being pushed back," she said, adding that when a wave that could have swamped the boat approached it from the side, he turned the boat head on into the wave, creating a spray of water that flew up in the air about 40 feet.
She called Miss Rebecca's owner, Glenn Brooks, who had told Baker to come in before the storm hit. He ranked the storm as a seven on a scale of one to 10.
The Coast Guard would have responded if lives were in immediate danger or if Lowe and his crew were willing to abandon a boat full of fish, he said.
They weren't, and they couldn't safely board the Miss Rebecca, so Baker towed the Angler back out a few miles, where it could anchor – the sand near the pass is too soft, according to Fannon.
Baker then headed home again, arrived at the channel, and got another call. The Angler had broken loose, and needed help to reach another anchorage.
After about 12 hours – from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. - with no injuries or mishaps, Baker had secured the Angler and returned the Miss Rebecca to Cortez.
On Monday afternoon, Lowe was still floating on anchor in the Gulf, waiting for the weather to break. With a cell phone just close enough to land to work, he had arranged for someone to bring him fuel. With a propane heater, he was staying warm. And with nothing but time on his hands, he was kicking himself.
"I didn't check the tank," he said. "I cut myself short on fuel."