Friday, July 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Weather

Tarpon Springs boat captain returns after fateful encounter with Irma

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."

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
High chance of showers, muggy conditions for Tampa Bay throughout weekend

High chance of showers, muggy conditions for Tampa Bay throughout weekend

It’s shaping up to be a warm and muggy weekend across the bay area with rain chances staying around 60 percent through the weekend.Much of the expected precipitation is coming to the area thanks to the combination of a southwestern flow bringing show...
Published: 07/20/18
Scattered afternoon showers to persist into the weekend across Tampa Bay

Scattered afternoon showers to persist into the weekend across Tampa Bay

A strong southwestern flow continues to drag scattered showers and thunderstorms from the Gulf. As the weekend approaches, folks around Tampa Bay can expect to see a familiar pattern: morning showers near the coast and, by the afternoon, stronger and...
Published: 07/19/18
Isolated thunderstorms to persists for rest of week across Tampa Bay

Isolated thunderstorms to persists for rest of week across Tampa Bay

The chance of rain is increasing for the second half of this week across Tampa Bay, starting Wednesday afternoon with the arrival of thunderstorms that could produce gusty winds and frequent downpours.A southwestern flow will dominate much of this we...
Published: 07/18/18
Thick humidity fuels sweltering conditions, increasing rain chances for Tampa Bay

Thick humidity fuels sweltering conditions, increasing rain chances for Tampa Bay

Scattered showers and thunderstorms are expected to pick up throughout Tampa Bay on Tuesday afternoon, along with continued blistering sunshine and high humidity.An increased chance of rain, around 60 percent, will continue throughout the week. A hig...
Published: 07/17/18
Forecast: Dry start to work week, but rain chances will build across Tampa Bay

Forecast: Dry start to work week, but rain chances will build across Tampa Bay

The work week will start of relatively dry across Tampa Bay, but rain chances will increase throughout the week with a chance of scattered showers and thunderstorms near 50 percent on Friday.Skies will be mostly sunny on Monday, with only a 20 percen...
Published: 07/16/18
Seasonal weather remains consistent across Tampa Bay through weekend

Seasonal weather remains consistent across Tampa Bay through weekend

Tampa Bay residents can expect typical July weather patterns Friday and heading into the weekend as warm weather and sunshine leads to possible afternoon storms.The National Weather Service has most of the storms developing inland during the afternoo...
Published: 07/13/18
Chris downgraded to post-tropical cyclone, will bring rain, dangerous surf to Canada

Chris downgraded to post-tropical cyclone, will bring rain, dangerous surf to Canada

Although Chris may no longer be a hurricane, the storm could still have a significant impact on weather both on the East Coast and Canada as it races across the Atlantic and toward Canada.Hours after being downgraded to a tropical storm, Chris was de...
Published: 07/12/18
Continued high humidity with increased chance for afternoon thunderstorms in Tampa Bay

Continued high humidity with increased chance for afternoon thunderstorms in Tampa Bay

It should be a sunny Thursday around Tampa Bay with partly skies and a 20-30 percent chance of rain by the late afternoon.Most of those storms will be driven further inland by the coastal breeze sweeping in from the Gulf of Mexico, according to the N...
Published: 07/12/18
Continued heat and humidity across Tampa Bay, and more rain this weekend

Continued heat and humidity across Tampa Bay, and more rain this weekend

The second half of the week will continue Tampa Bay’s slow trek through the dog days of summer with afternoon heat indexes surpassing 100 degrees.Expect a hot and humid Wednesday as highs reach 92, with high humidity making it feel more like 100-105,...
Published: 07/11/18
Hurricane Chris quickly strengthens, generates dangerous surf on path to Canada

Hurricane Chris quickly strengthens, generates dangerous surf on path to Canada

The second hurricane of the 2018 season has quickly strengthened into a Category 2 storm that is moving away from the U.S. but making a bee-line toward Canada and, eventually, Iceland.As of Wednesday at 5 a.m., Hurricane Chris was situated about 315 ...
Published: 07/11/18