BRADENTON BEACH – The liveaboard boating community in Bradenton Beach lost a friend and fellow sailor with the recent passing of 59-year-old Octavio Utrera.
Utrera previously owned and operated Anna Maria Island Sailing Adventures. His charter trips included the gourmet meals he prepared aboard his sailboat, the Zefiro.
According to Longboat Key Public Information Officer Tina Adams and Lt. Robert Bourque of the Longboat Key Police Department, Utrera’s body was discovered at approximately 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 24 floating just offshore in the Gulf of Mexico near the 100 block of Sands Point Road by New Pass at the south end of Longboat Key.
On Monday, Dec. 30, Bourque said the case remained under investigation. Bourque said no cause of death had yet been determined, but the medical examiner initially found no signs of trauma to the body. A toxicology report was pending.
Adams said Utrera’s driver license listed a Holmes Beach address, but those who knew him said he’d recently been living on a sailboat anchored near the Bridge Street Pier.
Bourque said the last known sighting of Utrera alive was when a Bradenton Beach police officer spoke with him on Sunday, Dec. 22 at approximately 10:47 p.m.
Bradenton Beach Det. Sgt. Lenard Diaz said Officer Eric Hill spoke with Utrera that night when he discovered Utrera’s sailboat tied to a piling alongside the south side of the Bridge Street Pier.
“Apparently his boat cut loose so he had tied to one of the pier pillars east of the floating dock,” Diaz said.
“They talked for a little bit. It was pretty windy, so there really wasn’t much he could do until the next day. When Eric left, he was still on the boat. That was the last time we had contact with him,” Diaz said.
Diaz said Hill returned to the pier around 2 a.m. and discovered a second boat tied up near Utrera’s boat but had no additional interaction with Utrera.
Utrera’s body was located approximately 12 miles from the pier. When asked if it was known how or where Utrera wound up in the water, Bourque said that question could not yet be answered.
A respected sailor
Bradenton Beach resident Patti Clarke met Utrera when she worked at the Bradenton Beach Marina.
“He was a very dear friend of mine,” Clarke said.
Clarke said Utrera had been living in New Jersey for the past couple of years, but returned to the Island in September. Clarke helped Utrera acquire the use of the sailboat he was living on and they planned to use that boat to do charters together.
Clarke said she received text messages from two mutual friends who said Utrera called them on Sunday, Dec. 22 and said he was having trouble with the boat due to the strong winds and weather conditions. Both friends were out of town and could not help.
Utrera used to dock the Zefiro at the Bradenton Beach Marina.
“We called Octavio ‘O.J.’ He was around the marina for many years buying fuel or getting repairs done. O.J. was a nice guy – quick to laugh and joke around. He escaped from Cuba on a naval boat. He was quite proficient at handling boats,” marina president Mike Bazzy said.
“He had his boat at my place a couple years ago. With the winds and the weather and the floating dock being closed, it was getting too hard to run his charter business out of the anchorage, so he rented a slip here for more than year. He took six people out at a time and when they came back to the dock everyone would be cracking up. He was a good guy to be on a boat with,” Bazzy said.
Paradise Boat Tours General Manager Sherman Baldwin operates his tour boat business from an office at the foot of the pier.
“When Octavio was doing AMI Sailing Adventures full-fledged in 2014 and 2015 there would be days when except for provisioning his boat and running to the market on a scooter he would be on the water 24 hours a day. Food was part of his charters and he used to make these amazing meals. He loved boating and he was great with people,” Baldwin said.
“He defected from the Cuban Navy. He came here because he loved America. He used to do this funny thing when he sailed in. He’d see some boaters and yell ‘Which way to America?’” Baldwin said.
Morgan Rothe met Utrera about 12 years ago when he sailed from Sarasota to Bradenton Beach.
“I threw an anchor down next to this guy and he said, ‘Welcome to America.’ He threw me a Busch beer from 30 feet away. Octavio was the first person I met out there. He told me he and some of his buddies were in the Cuban Navy and stole one of Castro’s patrol boats and escaped to America in the late 1970s. Octavia was a seasoned sailor. I sailed with him seven or eight times,” Rothe said.