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Yacht with no one aboard mysteriously washes ashore on Redington Beach

REDINGTON BEACH — About noon Wednesday, Gene Borg was sitting at his table, eating a bowl of cereal and fruit.

Out in the gulf, something caught his eye.

Amid crashing waves and a high tide, a 48-foot yacht was creeping toward shore.

The boat crawled through the churning waters, perpendicular to a stretch of beach near Gulf Boulevard and 158th Avenue. It passed buoys marked for swimming.

"I'm thinking hey, he's getting kind of close. I thought, he's got to turn," said Borg, 68. "But it didn't turn. It just came straight onto the beach."

Borg rushed out of his house. His wife, Diane, called 911. When authorities got on scene, they realized they had a mystery on their hands.

The yacht's engine was running. But no one was aboard.

• • •

Where did the boat come from and how did it get here?

Officials from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and U.S. Coast Guard were trying to figure that out late Wednesday night.

The large blue and white luxury boat is a 48 Sundancer made by Sea Ray. Its name is Makin Waves out of Jupiter, though the most recent registration on the boat is from Delaware. A Mexican flag is attached to its bow. An American flag flies at the stern.

The value of a new 48 Sundancer with standard equipment, including a 400-gallon fuel tank, is just over $1 million, according to the Sea Ray website.

Detectives spent most of the day Wednesday trying to find out who owns the boat.

"Right now, they're not even sure who the owner is," said Sgt. Tom Nestor, a sheriff's spokesman.

Detectives made contact with a previous owner, who said he had sold the boat within the past couple years. It also may have changed hands after that.

"They don't think it was registered after it was sold," said Petty Officer Robert Simpson, a Coast Guard spokesman.

Simpson said investigators were focused late Wednesday on a possible owner in Mexico.

The Coast Guard joined the investigation shortly after the sheriff's office got the call. When authorities didn't find anyone on the boat, they launched a search by air and sea.

"We don't have any solid idea if there were or weren't any people on board," Simpson said. "So we have to err on the side of caution. We can only assume that there was at least one person, maybe more, on board at one time."

Two rescue boats from the nearby Coast Guard station in Clearwater searched near shore. A helicopter scanned the water from above.

The search was suspended at 7:15 p.m. Officials said it will not resume unless they get evidence that someone is missing at sea.

• • •

Officials said they found no obvious signs of foul play on the yacht, though the sheriff's office brought out forensic investigators to sweep the vessel. There also have been no reports of a missing boat or boaters.

Nestor and Simpson said it's not unusual for boats to wash ashore. People abandon their property. Thieves steal boats, then ditch them. Kids release boats from docks as a prank.

But when a million-dollar boat washes up with its engine running, investigators can't help but think something bad may have happened.

"With this one especially if the engine had been left running, it raises more concern," Simpson said. "It's a little strange. That's why we're really taking cautions on this."

The yacht was under guard Wednesday night and will be towed away today.

"It's a beautiful boat," Borg said. "That's the intrigue to the whole thing. If it was my boat I'd be beating the drums ... everyone would know it was gone."

Yacht with no one aboard mysteriously washes ashore on Redington Beach 08/25/10 [Last modified: Thursday, August 26, 2010 8:20am]
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