Phantom of the Aqua becomes bizarre tourist attraction

Annie Blanks
The Destin Log

The Phantom of the Aqua, the 45-foot derelict sailboat that beached itself on local shores just before Halloween, has become something on a bizarre tourist attraction in Miramar Beach.

Wednesday afternoon, people crowded around the boat taking pictures and gawking in amazement at the “phantom” boat. The vessel sits on the beach close to the shoreline teetering to one side, and is nearly halfway in the water at high tide. Caution tape warns visitors not to come too close, and vinyl signs taped to its stern encourage people to donate money so the boat can “rise again.”

Roma Zamotorin and his daughter, Marsha, were visiting from Texas for Thanksgiving break and had parked their beach chairs next to the boat. They were trying to find information about the boat on their phone.

“It’s quite unusual for the beach,” Roma said. “We’re excited to look at it, though it is probably dangerous for kids to have this kind of thing here on the beach.”

“It fits in here,” Marsha said. “Lots of people are going up and photographing the boat. But I want to know its story.”

The boat, which was captained by South Florida resident John Hale, was abandoned in the Gulf of Mexico during Hurricane Nate when Hale had to be rescued by the Coast Guard due to rough seas. The boat drifted in the Gulf alone for several weeks before washing ashore in Miramar Beach near the Whale’s Tail restaurant, where it has remained since Oct. 21.

An FWC official said earlier this November the boat is a derelict vessel, making it a violation of Florida statue to remain on the beach. Hale said Wednesday he was still trying to get it removed.

“We are in the process of gathering bids from professional salvage guys that can help move her,” Hale said in a Facebook message. “Hopefully we have something figured out in the next couple of days.”

But as long as the boat remains on the beach, it continues to fascinate tourists and locals alike. Larry Biasotto, Jim Dickson and their sons Joey Biasotto and Blake Dickson were having lunch at a nearby restaurant and walked to the boat afterward to take a group photo.

“It’s a little suspicious,” Joey said.

“We were having lunch and we said, ‘Hey, there’s a boat, let’s check it out,’” Larry said. “We were wondering what it’s doing here and why the town is letting it stay here.”

Rodger Heitkamper, who was visiting from Louisville, Kentucky, with his young children, was taking pictures of his kids as they played in the surf next to the boat. He said he saw pictures of the vessel on social media weeks ago and thought it was “awesome” seeing it in person.

“It’s not bothering us and the kids love it,” he said. “But we’re wondering why it’s still here. Anyways, we think it’s cool.”

But David Seiter, from Chattanooga, Tennesee, said the boat has “got to go.”

“I’m surprised they haven’t come here and just dug it out,” he said. “You dig the keel out under the water and you drag her out. It just depends on how many shovels he’s got.

“Still, it’s kind of neat seeing it here,” he added. “Everybody’s getting a kick out of it."