Everyone they knew who had a boat was on the water Wednesday searching for Mark Portus, who never came home after a Monday fishing trip near Anclote Key. The 49-year-old's boat was found Monday night idling empty. The boat's two life jackets were still inside, said friend Harold Hayes. It isn't known if Portus had a third or whether he was wearing it when he went overboard.
The Coast Guard and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission crews continued Wednesday to canvass the area by water and air, as they had since the Hudson man was reported missing around 6 p.m. Monday.
The family wanted to increase the chances of Portus being found, so they pleaded for any experienced boaters to get on the water and help. They offered a $20,000 reward for the safe recovery of Portus — and said they would pay fuel costs for any volunteers.
"If you can go out, we'll pay," said Hayes, who has known Portus for more than 20 years.
Hayes urged volunteer boaters to be safe. The family doesn't want anyone else lost at sea.
Hayes said Portus had been in the Navy and has boated all his life. He said Portus knew how to stay alive and how to make a flotation device out of his clothing.
"I know he is out there treading water," said Hayes, 49.
Hayes heard Tuesday that Portus was missing, and he drove from his home in Georgia to help. He bought ship-to-shore radios to monitor the Coast Guard's search.
Portus and his brother, David, run Geotech Construction Services Inc., a sinkhole remediation and ground stabilization business in Hudson. Their sister, Christine Harper, is the office manager. Hayes, who is a semi-retired computer technician, said none of them are rich people. But money doesn't matter at a time like this.
"He's my best friend," Hayes said of Mark Portus. "You can't put a monetary value on his life."
David Portus, who has his own boat, has been searching for his brother since Monday night — only returning to land when he is forced to by loved ones, to get something to eat and sleep a little before going back out, Hayes said.
Wednesday, Hayes and Mark Portus' 18-year-old son, Aaron, called all of the charter boat companies they could find on the Internet, then drove around to docks to see if they could find boaters to go on the water.
Hayes didn't have an estimate of how many volunteers searched Wednesday. A charter boat company volunteered to search for free. The family hired another boat and rented a private helicopter to search.
"Today is critical," Hayes said Wednesday, as far as Portus' chances of survival.
The Coast Guard called off its search Wednesday evening, but Florida Fish and Wildlife said it would resume efforts this morning.
The family is bracing itself in case Fish and Wildlife stops looking for Portus.
"It's going to be down to us," Hayes said.
Portus' boat was released by investigators Wednesday, Hayes said. The family plans to use it today to continue the search.
"As friends and family," Hayes said, "we will not stop."
The family says Portus got his vessel about a year ago and is a responsible boater who just likes to relax on his boat and fish.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.