The distress call came in at 7:55 a.m. from the Russell W. Peterson, a research vessel 14 miles off the Delaware coast. A massive storm, rare for this time of year, was pounding the mid Atlantic. The National Weather Service had recorded 16-foot waves.
The Russell W. Peterson, a platform boat once used as an oil rig, was taking on water.
John Moyse, 61, was one of two crew members aboard.
Mr. Moyse, who lived in Largo, grew up on the water and captained a wide variety of boats for hire, including submersible crafts. He was an eternal optimist, fiancee Nancy Whitford said.
He worked and fished on the water. On land, he played golf and volunteered for Florida state parks.
He counseled his only son, John Moyse Jr., to make sure he got a job with a solid retirement plan. Moyse Jr. is now an Army officer in Qatar.
His father always knew he might one day perish at sea, Moyse Jr. told the News Journal, a Delaware newspaper.
Mr. Moyse had already moved the Peterson to Delaware for another job earlier this year, his fiancee said. In May, the chief backer was Bluewater Wind, an offshore energy developer that needed data on migratory bird patterns. According to Mike Kazsuba, a Coast Guard investigator based in Philadelphia, that data was collected by Mr. Moyse and his fellow crew member, whom Kazsuba declined to name. The two were the only people on the boat on May 12.
The Peterson is a platform boat of the "jack-up" variety commonly found among oil rigs off the coast of Louisiana. It's 58-foot length makes it small for an oil rig. Jack-up boats, used in relatively shallow depths, extend their hydraulic legs to the ocean floor, and bore themselves beneath the surface.
Once anchored, the boat can then lift its flat deck above the water, providing a stable floor. At the time the storm hit, its three legs were still screwed into the ocean floor.
From Sunday to Monday, the weather service increased the severity of its marine warnings from gale to full-blown storm, with wind gusts up to 58 mph.
But the Peterson might not have been able to leave.
"We are trying to determine what the actual sea state was," Kaszuba said. Most platform boats cannot withdraw their hydraulic supports in seas higher than 5 feet, he said.
A Coast Guard helicopter lifted the other crew member to safety. Rescuers found Mr. Moyse in the damaged ship's galley, surrounded by debris. He had not survived.
On Sunday, Mr. Moyse' family released his ashes into the gulf, off John's Pass in Madeira Beach.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or