Miami-bound sailboat found off Palm Beach after Keys sailor rescued in a storm

The 'Imma-nu-el,' formerly owned by Marathon liveaboard Kevin Wilkinson, lies grounded on Singer Island in Palm Beach County. The boat was damaged by a storm and then looted, Wilkinson says.
The 'Imma-nu-el,' formerly owned by Marathon liveaboard Kevin Wilkinson, lies grounded on Singer Island in Palm Beach County. The boat was damaged by a storm and then looted, Wilkinson says.

A 31-foot sailboat carried away by high seas in the predawn dark Jan. 7 off Key Largo ran aground near a Palm Beach County resort, where it fell prey to looters.

"This has been an emotional roller-coaster," said boat owner Kevin Wilkinson, 59, who lived in Marathon aboard the 1978 Bombay Clipper named Imma-nu-el.

Wilkinson was sailing alone from Boot Key Harbor to Miami when he was caught by a fierce storm front. After battling seas for hours, Wilkinson was forced to abandon his vessel. He was lifted aboard a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter with assistance of a rescue swimmer and a Coast Guard crew from Station Islamorada.

Wilkinson was stunned to hear from the Coast Guard that the Imma-nu-el was spotted drifting about a mile off Singer Island. The sloop, sails shredded, eventually grounded last week near the Palm Beach Marriott Beach Resort before the Coast Guard reached it.

"People crawled all over it" before officers arrived to protect the vessel, Wilkinson said. "It was basically looted. Anything of value was stripped from it."

A marine salvor pulled the boat from the beach. Wilkinson, unemployed and living on a limited disability pension from his U.S. Navy service, could not afford the recovery cost. So he agreed to sign the boat over to the salvor to pay for the salvage.

"Then [the tow company] called and said because it was my home, I could have the boat back for no payment," said Wilkinson, then unaware of the vessel's condition. "That was the upside of the roller-coaster.... I took a bus and train to get up there."

Arriving at the marina, he found the boat had been scavenged and was leaking badly, despite being pumped out earlier in day.

"Now the boat's a liability" for the salvor, Wilkinson said. "They tried to give it back to me but I don't have the financial means or resources to put it back together."

Wilkinson said he found "a trap rope totally wrapped around" the boat's propeller and shaft. He believes that kept the boat from making any headway in the storm.

"It doesn't change the outcome but I feel better knowing that I did everything possible to save it," Wilkinson said. "Mentally and emotionally, I'm OK. At least I have some closure."

The American Red Cross provided financial help for some new clothes, he said. After sleeping on friends' couches this past week, Wilkinson bought a backpack and sleeping bag.

"I don't know what my next step is," Wilkinson said, "but I have a new chapter for my autobiography."

Read more Florida Keys stories from the Miami Herald

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category