In a matter of days, the now-infamous Phantom of the Aqua will hopefully find its way back to sea.

SANTA ROSA BEACH — In a matter of days, the now-infamous Phantom of the Aqua will hopefully find its way back to sea.

That’s because a group of locals have formed a committee to help the boat’s captain, John Hale, get his stranded sailboat off the beach.

Owen Tabor, a Santa Rosa Beach man who owns Tabor Home Services, is organizing the effort to remove the boat from the beach this Thursday.

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“You don’t see a boat like that wash up every day,” Tabor said. “When you hear the story about how the boat got here, and John’s story about how he poured his life savings into the boat, you kind of get sucked into it.”

The Phantom of the Aqua, which Hale nicknamed “Lilly,” has sat derelict on a Walton County beach since Oct. 19, several weeks after Hale said he had to abandon it in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico during Hurricane Nate. Hale said he built the boat as a business venture and was sailing it to the Virgin Islands to deliver relief supplies when Nate’s winds destroyed his sails and engine.

Hale was rescued from the boat by the Coast Guard and thought Lilly was going to end up at the bottom of the Gulf. However, it sailed itself right up onto Miramar Beach, and now Tabor wants to help him free it.

Hale said a tow boat company quoted him $11,000 to remove his vessel from the beach, money he says he doesn’t have. So Tabor, along with a group of locals, are seeking people with tow boats, shovels, sump pumps and other equipment to come together to “free Lilly.”

“We’ve got a pretty good plan in place,” Tabor said. “I’ve got some good folks ready to donate some time and make this happen. It’s going to be a story for the grandkids.”

Tabor said he is mostly in need of tow boats to help out. He is also in need of people with shovels to help dig a trench around the boat, and people with sump pumps to help get the boat floating.

John Paulsen, owner of Destin Getaways, is providing Hale with a place to stay locally while he works to get the boat off the beach.

A crowdfunding account has also been set up to help John with expenses after his boat is freed.

David Bailey, a Santa Rosa Beach snowbird, said he is throwing a party behind the Royal Palm Grille, where the boat is located, at 8 a.m. Tuesday morning for Hale to see his boat for the first time. He encouraged people in the community to come out to show their support.

Hale, who was flying from St. Thomas to Destin Monday, said the local response to his predicament is “absolutely insane.”

“I had all but given up” on getting Lilly back, Hale said in a message from St. Thomas Monday afternoon. “It’s crazy to imagine that so many (people) have been touched by my and her story.”

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