HERNANDO BEACH — Jeff Hardy and his friends had one goal when they set out on a fishing trip Friday afternoon: beat the Memorial Day weekend crowds.
But as darkness fell, the waves and wind picked up. Hardy and his crew, which included two friends and a nephew, knew they were in trouble.
The boat started taking on water. The men grabbed for the life jackets.
"They didn't even have time," said Vicki Hardy, Jeff's wife. "The water just came up and flipped the boat."
Vicki Hardy, who was at the couple's home in Shady Hills near Hudson, said her husband, 52, called her from his cellphone shortly after 10:30 p.m., as the boat was going down.
The cellphone somehow worked despite getting wet, she said. She called 911.
Both the U.S. Coast Guard and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission responded. Authorities said a Coast Guard helicopter located the boat and directed an FWC officer to the scene about 11 p.m.
The officer found the men clinging to the hull of the 21-foot boat. It had overturned in an area known as Ben Dickenson Reef, about 20 miles west of Hernando Beach.
No one was injured. The boaters were brought to the Hernando Beach Boat Ramp, where Vicki Hardy picked them up at 1:30 a.m. Besides Jeff Hardy, the other boaters were Harry "Skip" Barber, 50, of Brooksville; Donald King, 50, of Shady Hills; and Shean Wesney, 27, of Shady Hills.
Vicki Hardy said all are familiar with the Ben Dickenson Reef area, but they usually fish there during the day. This was to be their first overnight trip.
Even though the men were in the water for a short time, it could have been worse, said FWC officer Robert Scholl.
He said the incident should be a reminder for boaters to always wear a life jacket.
Kameel Stanley can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8643.