TAMPA — It's a 25-foot sailboat in 600,000 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico traveling in a body of water with more than 3,500 miles of coastline — 16,000 miles in the U.S. alone if bays and inland waterways are included.
Authorities say it's a remarkably good place to hide.
With calm waters and ideal weather drawing more boaters to the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday, authorities hoped the extra sets of eyes would help as they continue their search for the man they say kidnapped his two young sons and took off in a sailboat.
Joshua Hakken, along with his wife, Sharyn Hakken, and their two boys — Cole, 4, and Chase, 2 — are thought to be on a 25-foot sailboat that launched from Madeira Beach on Wednesday, just hours after the kidnapping.
"You don't have to be very far out of the shipping lanes and you're invisible," said Don Goldstein of Riverview, a retired Coast Guard commander. "There's no way the Coast Guard with its federal and state partners can effectively search the gulf. It's just way too big."
Coast Guard spokeswoman Tara Moll said some of the Coast Guard's ships and helicopters had searched from Mobile Bay to Key West over the past two days. Moll said its search must be halted at times to respond to other calls.
Authorities warned they cannot assume Hakken is still on the gulf. But on land or sea, the best chance to capture him may come with the help of a recreational boater or someone on a working ship.
"The real power of this search is the public," said Larry McKinnon, a spokesman for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
Members of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the U.S. Coast Guard, the FBI and deputies from sheriff's offices up and down the Gulf Coast are on the lookout, McKinnon said.
One report suggests Hakken may be sailing much further than Florida coastal waters.
Jo Anne Glover, 56, who owns a 26-foot Horizon sailboat that was docked next to the Hakkens' boat in Madeira Beach, said she spoke to the owner of the rental house behind which the boats were docked. The owner told Glover the Hakken family had been planning to sail to Central and South America.
"She didn't have any indication that anything was wrong," said Glover. "She said they were nice people. She knew it was a temporary thing that they were docking the boat there."
The Coast Guard is sending civilian boaters a description of the sailboat on their radios' emergency channel along with a caution to not approach the vessel because the occupants are considered armed and dangerous.
Authorities said Hakken may be an experienced sailor. On a long trip, he'll need all his sailing wits.
Rich White, director of the Clearwater Community Sailing Center, once voyaged 1,400 miles from St. Thomas to Key West to Clearwater in a 40-foot boat. He and friends packed 75 gallons of water, fishing rods and 20 days worth of dry milk, canned tuna, potatoes, onions and cereal.
"It's a lot like preparing for a serious camping trip," said White, 61. "Be ready for anything. Over-prepare."
The kidnapping occurred a day after the Hakkens had their parental rights severed after authorities reported several bizarre incidents.
The couple has previously been suicidal, according to court records, and when police found them in a Slidell, La., hotel in June, they were talking about taking a "journey to Armageddon."
The boat is a 1972 Morgan sailboat with a blue hull, white mainsail and the word "Salty" painted on the back.
McKinnon said officials hope Hakken may yet contact them in hopes of working things out.
"We do have a very strong open ear to hear his voice," McKinnon said. "Thus far, nobody's been hurt. There are still ways to work this out."
Anyone with information on the Hakkens' whereabouts is asked to call local law enforcement. Hillsborough deputies can be reached at (813) 247-8200.
Times staff writer Dan Sullivan and researcher John Martin contributed to this report.