When Cory French drove his boat out to go fishing near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Tuesday morning, skies were clear.
But that afternoon, storms started to mount on the horizon just as a fuel pump issue caused the boat to break down. Waterspouts and thunderstorms barrelled into Tampa Bay, leaving French, four other passengers and his dog stranded about three miles west of the bridge until they were rescued by a Coast Guard crew.
As they waited for the Coast Guard to arrive, rain started to pummel down on the 24-foot recreational boat. Lightning was striking all around them, said French, a 29-year-old fireman from Temple Terrace, who was on the boat with his wife, three cousins and Oscar the beagle-pug mix.
French said he and his cousins were too busy making sure the boat was safe to get flustered, but his wife was scared for her life.
"I was hysterical," said Courtney French, a 31-year-old pharmacy technician. "I've never been in something like that before."
Courtney French called 911 to reach the Coast Guard at 8:50 p.m., and the crew arrived about a half hour later.
The group huddled under the boat's 4-foot-by-4-foot metal awning, trying unsuccessfully to stay dry.
"Five people and a dog—we're a family, but we got really close," Courtney French said.
Cory French said he couldn't see for more than 20 yards because of the rain, so they used their flares, flashlights and cell phones to make sure the Coast Guard crew could find them. By the time they arrived in a 45-foot response ship, French and his family were standing in about four inches of water on the boat's deck.
The Coast Guard brought the family and dog to shore and also towed in the boat. No one was injured.
The rescue happened just as severe thunderstorms rocked Tampa Bay with heavy rain, hail, and lightning. Several waterspouts were reported Tuesday night, and the National Weather Service had issued a tornado warning for Pinellas at about 8:45 p.m.
Cory French said he did not know there were waterspouts near their boat until he got home and turned on the news.
"I'm glad about that because my wife would have had a heart attack," he said.