Couple whose dream boat sank gets a bigger, better boat for a buck

Published March 1 2018
Updated March 1 2018

It has been three weeks since the Lagniappe sank.

Long enough for the sea to break the boat into pieces and scatter it around, and long enough to annoy local boaters asking when the potentially dangerous mess would be cleaned up.

It has also been long enough for its former owners, Tanner Broadwell, 26, and Nikki Walsh, 24, to experience the gamut of human generosity and ugliness, as they described it.

Their tale of selling everything to fund a dream of sailing the Caribbean only to have their boat sink at John’s Pass, leaving them with little more than a cellphone and $90 to their name, went viral after appearing in the Tampa Bay Times. Since then, the couple has raised thousands of dollars in donations, taken ownership of an essentially free sailboat — one of several they were offered — and heard from a publisher interested in buying the rights to their story.

They said they’ve also faced harassing calls and messages from people accusing them of running a scam, shirking their responsibility to clean up the wreckage, or just calling to say they wish they’d drowned.

"It’s been pretty stressful," Broadwell said. "Today I finally feel like I can breathe."

That’s because on Monday he signed over the title to the Lagniappe to Joseph Moore, owner of Disco Volante Marine, who planned to begin to raise the wreckage this week. The engine and fuel tank, the main environmental concerns, were pulled up weeks ago.

"Their 21-day grace period to get the boat out of there was almost expired when they contacted me," Moore said. "Now it’s my problem. … I understand it was a lengthy process for them."

Broadwell, Walsh and their dog, Remy, should be back on the water soon. Mark Reinecke, a retired physician living in St. Petersburg, sold them his cherished 1985 Cheoy Lee Pedrick 36-foot sailboat the Odyssey for $1 after reading they’d come from Colorado, like he and his wife, and had a 2-year-old pug, which reminded them of their old pug, Chow.

PREVIOUSLY: They sold everything and bought a boat to sail the world. It sank on Day 2.

Years ago, he would sail the Odyssey almost every weekend with his family to the Florida Keys or the Bahamas, but Reinecke, 77, said aging and health issues made that more difficult in the past decade.

"So I’ve had it there behind the house trying to think of something to do with it," Reinecke said. "That boat is like part of our family, but we also feel that the sailboat deserves to be at sea, not just sitting there, so when this situation came up, we said, ‘Let them have it.’ It’s like passing it on to the next generation."

Reinecke made a list of the boats peculiarities, quirks an owner knows after 33 years, and talked with the couple about their sailing and navigating abilities with "normal concern," but in the end, said, "I can’t teach them to sail. They just have to do it."

Broadwell expects to be living aboard the vessel and working on it by next week, and en route to Key West with Walsh and their pup not long after that.

Moore, the salvager, said he charged the couple about half of the $10,000 they’d originally worried they’d have to come up with to have the wreck removed. Their GoFundMe campaign, titled "Couple’s Sunken Dreams," easily surpassed its stated goal of raising $10,000 and has raised more than $16,000 to date from hundreds of donors.

But it was when the couple made several edits to the campaign last week as the wreckage sat there that accusations flew. First they removed a sentence saying the funds were "solely to get the boat out of the water" and added one saying they’d use any extra money to buy a new boat and continue the dream. Later they took out all references to salvaging the Lagniappe and wrote, "The first thing we (need) is a new boat to continue our adventure."

Screen shots of those edits were posted in sailing forums and local boating and fishing Facebook group and sent to the Times. Commenters called the whole thing a scam. When Nikki Walsh posted a link to a new Facebook page that would document the couple’s continued adventures, it was so overrun with negative comments that she had to delete it, she said.

A day after GoFundMe told the Times it was investigating the edits to see if they violated the company’s terms of service, the campaign reverted back to an earlier version reading, "the first thing we are doing is salvaging the Lagniappe."

"It was a misunderstanding. We only changed the GoFundMe because we passed the $10,000 we needed, and people kept sending us money," Broadwell said. "We wanted them to know what it was going to. We didn’t want people to think that we still needed more money for the salvage. But rumors spread. All the sudden we had people asking us for refunds, and GoFundMe fraud protection calling us, saying they needed receipts, which we’re sending them."

Amanda Parker, a spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers, said Tuesday that divers determined the wreckage was not impeding navigation in the boating channel, but added that Moore’s salvage was expected to take about five weeks.

Deputy Jessica Mackesy of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said the Coast Guard had been broadcasting a notice over the VHF channel to let boaters know it was there, but added, "There’s a sandbar right there. That’s what made them have the accident, so people shouldn’t be driving in that area anyway."

As for the couple’s time in the public eye, Broadwell said he’s kind of over it.

"I’m done with Facebook," he said when asked if he’d keep people updated. "I started this whole thing to be a minimalist and get away from people and leave all that behind."

But Walsh said she still wants to document their story publicly. The Instagram account she’s using is @lagniappeadventures.