Friday, January 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Weather

Cruise ship rescues Florida shrimp boat captain from Hurricane Irma as first mate goes down with ship

The captain had few words to say after he got off the airplane, but most of them were about his former deckhand.

"Carl Sheperd was the best man, best friend," Capt. Edward Potter said. "I can't say anything more … but I love that man."

It was just weeks before that the men had set off on Potter's shrimp boat, the Capt. Eddie, from Pelican Point Seafood in Tarpon Springs for a shrimping trip to the Florida Keys.

About a week into their journey, Hurricane Irma developed and came barreling west toward the Florida Straits. Potter, 61, on just the start of what is typically a 30- to 40-day excursion, thought they could outrun it. But the storm caught up with them, pummeling the boat, the two men on board and their feline passenger, Motorboat.

Only Potter made it back alive.

"It's been a trying few days," he said from Tampa International Airport, where he embraced family and friends, many in tears.

At Pelican Point on Wednesday, the conversation centered on Sheperd. Everyone spoke of his infectious smile, his ability to make anyone laugh, and his willingness to help and ask nothing in return.

"He was always the first one to throw the lines off and the first one to catch them coming in," said Rick Shalansky, the captain of the fish house's sister boat, the Julie Ann.

The talk also swirled around what exactly happened in those hours at sea.

The men were stationed about 40 miles south of Fort Jefferson, said Jack Russell, the owner of Pelican Point and its restaurant, Rusty Bellies Waterfront Grill.

Potter called Russell and left him a message, saying they were going to stay down there during the storm because Irma was projected to go up the east coast. But, like many on the mainland, Irma caught them by surprise when its track shifted. Potter and Sheperd's plan was to run from it to the west.

Around Sunday — no one could quite keep track of the days in the post-storm haze — Sheperd answered the phone when Russell called back, the fish house owner said. He sounded calm but had a bleak message: The engine room was full of water.

Potter's wife, Jayne Jurgensohn, was on the phone nonstop after that, cycling between her husband and the U.S. Coast Guard. She said the Coast Guard told her its rescue vessels had been relocated to prepare for Irma's impact. But there was a Carnival cruise ship en route to Freeport in the Bahamas to undergo maintenance at a dry-dock facility.

The crew on the Carnival Elation received a distress call from the boat Sunday.

"Despite very strong winds and swells and near complete darkness, Carnival Elation responded to the call," said Jennifer de la Cruz, a spokeswoman for Carnival.

Potter had inflated the life raft, ready to abandon the sinking ship. He hopped on holding Motorboat in a cat carrier, Jurgensohn said. He doesn't know how he lost hold of it, but the cat never made it onto the raft.

And neither did Sheperd.

The last thing Potter saw looking back at the fiberglass trawler was the deckhand calling his name, Jurgensohn said.

"Captain Eddie. Captain Eddie."

Potter was picked up by the cruise ship. Sheperd went down with the boat.

As Sunday night turned to Monday morning, Irma made its way up to Tarpon Springs, where Shalansky and the other boat captains were on the docks keeping an eye on their vessels. They heard about 1:30 a.m. that both their friends had been rescued by the cruise ship. In the sideways rain and thrashing winds, they celebrated with a round of high-fives.

The next morning, Shalanksy heard the news from Jurgensohn, who came in person to the fish house. Sean Okeefe, a tug boat captain who was with Shalansky during the storm, woke up from a nap to a phone screen full of text messages asking if he'd heard about Sheperd.

"I said, 'Yeah, it was awesome,' " Okeefe recalled.

Then, the next message came. "No. The story changed."

 

No one could say why Sheperd, a fourth-generation fisherman with many a storm under his belt, didn't make it onto the raft. Shalansky guessed the seas were just too rough to get in, which was a struggle even practicing in a swimming pool, he said.

As he emerged from the terminal Wednesday, Potter, who Shalanksy said was usually "larger than life," said little. He was rolled away in a wheelchair, his head in his hands.

Shalansky, standing misty-eyed to the side, knew people would ask: Why didn't the men turn back when Irma developed?

"You get it while you can get it," he said. "That's a fact of life for this business."

Contact Kathryn Varn at [email protected] or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.

 
Comments
Forecast: Tampa Bayís bitter cold snap is finally over

Forecast: Tampa Bayís bitter cold snap is finally over

Tampa Bay is finally clear of the bitter chill that covered the region this week as temperatures picked up on Saturday. 10News WTSPThe latest Tampa Bay-area radar 10News WTSPFeels-like temperatures around t...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Forecast: After a chilly morning, normal weather slowly returning to Tampa Bay

Forecast: After a chilly morning, normal weather slowly returning to Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay can finally bid farewell to this weekís stretch of brutally cold conditions.10News WTSPFeels-like temperatures around the Tampa Bay area Itís a slow return to normal, as some residents still woke up to frost and sub-freezing temperatures, ...
Published: 01/19/18
On Jan. 18, 2018: Record cold in Tampa Bay. On Jan. 19, 1977: Snow.

On Jan. 18, 2018: Record cold in Tampa Bay. On Jan. 19, 1977: Snow.

One day. Just one day on a calendar separates an epic cold snap from what was arguably the most historic January weather event in Tampa Bay history.On Thursday, the region dealt with a brutal arctic blast produced record low temperatures that caused ...
Published: 01/19/18
Tampa Bay record lows burst pipes, threaten berry and fish farms

Tampa Bay record lows burst pipes, threaten berry and fish farms

In winters past, when they ran the irrigation system at Parkesdale Farms to preserve the berry crop in a protective shell of ice, the icicles measured inches.But on Wednesday night, one of the coldest nights in years, the icicles hung more than a foo...
Published: 01/18/18
Record-breaking cold sends arctic blast through Tampa Bay

Record-breaking cold sends arctic blast through Tampa Bay

It was record-breaking cold this morning as a deep freeze cast over Tampa Bay.Wind-chill advisories are out as feels-like temperatures sit between a bitter 20 and 30 degrees.Tampa tied its recorded for the lowest temperature of 29 degrees on Jan. 18,...
Published: 01/18/18
Winter weather deaths climb to 15 as the South cleans up snow

Winter weather deaths climb to 15 as the South cleans up snow

The deep freeze that shut down much of the South began to relent Thursday as crews salted and cleared roads after a slow-moving storm left ice and snow in places that usually enjoy mild winters. At least 15 people were killed in accidents and frigid ...
Published: 01/18/18
2017 was among the planetís hottest years on record, government scientists report

2017 was among the planetís hottest years on record, government scientists report

2017 was among the hottest years ever recorded, government scientists reported Thursday.The year was the second-hottest in recorded history, NASA said, while scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported 2017 was the th...
Published: 01/18/18
Black ice in Tampa? Leaking water truck blamed for crash on Veterans Expressway

Black ice in Tampa? Leaking water truck blamed for crash on Veterans Expressway

TAMPA ó A woman in a black BMW encountered a hazard on the Veterans Expressway she probably never expected in Tampa, especially on a dry day.Black ice. The woman was driving south about 6 a.m. Wednesday when she hit a patch of ice just south of Hutch...
Published: 01/18/18
Shelters offer escape from the cold for those who need it

Shelters offer escape from the cold for those who need it

On warmer nights, Jerry Hardison can sleep for a few hours at the recycling center. He works 11-hour shifts there. He gets off at 2:30 a.m., then waits until the buses start running again.But not Wednesday."Getting out that time of the morning in the...
Published: 01/17/18
Temperatures falling fast; freeze warnings issued for Tampa Bay

Temperatures falling fast; freeze warnings issued for Tampa Bay

UPDATE: The National Weather Service has issued freeze warnings for Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando, Manatee and Sarasota counties.A cold air mass is moving southward through the Florida peninsula dropping temperatures across the Tampa Bay ar...
Published: 01/17/18