2:25 p.m. Nick Schuyler told his mom today that he survived by telling himself she was not going to go to his funeral, “that’s what kept him hanging on.” He’s dehydrated, has a few cuts and bruises and is heavily medicated. But his dad said Nick managed to say, “Hi, pop.” Marsha Schuyler said she passed out when she learned her son had survived.
2 p.m. Nick Schuyler was conscious and wearing a life vest today when the Coast Guard found him clinging to a fishing boat that left Clearwater Saturday morning, said Coast Guard Capt. Timothy Close. His three companions, including two former Tampa Bay Buccaneers, were not seen, Close said. Schuyler is in serious condition at Tampa General Hospital, a hospital spokesman said.
Schuyler told the Coast Guard the boat was anchored about 35 miles off Tampa Bay when it flipped Saturday night. He clung to the boat until he was rescued about noon today by the Coast Guard Cutter Tornado. He appeared to be wearing a Coast Guard jump suit and flip flops when he was wheeled into TGH from a Coast Guard helicopter.
1:25 p.m.With Nick Schuyler’s rescue, the cousin of Marquis Cooper asked everyone to pray for the safe return of Cooper and the two other missing boaters. “That keeps our spirits up, that keeps us real positive,” said Ray Sanchez. He said his cousin is a strong swimmer and had a life vest with him. “I know my cousin, so he’s coming back,” Sanchez said. “A lot of people have been calling, been texting, a lot of everything. Thank you for all of that to everybody. Keep praying. … We have three more to go.”
1:20 p.m.Nick Schuyler was just wheeled into Tampa General Hospital after being rescued by the Coast Guard in the Gulf of Mexico.
12:53 p.m. Schuyler is alive and talking, said his dad, Stuart Schuyler, who was briefed by the Coast Guard. Schuyler is being taken to Tampa General Hospital.
Stuart Schuyler said he has been praying and frantically awaiting word since Sunday. Asked how he feels now, he said: “Like God heard me.”
12:27 p.m. Nick Schuyler is the boater who has been found, according to the cousin of Marquis Cooper, Ray Sanchez, who is at the Clearwater boat ramp where the men were last seen and has been getting updates from family. He was found 38 miles west of Tampa Bay alive and clinging to a boat, Sanchez said.
The Coast Guard cutter Tornado found the boat and dispatched a smaller boat to rescue him.
12:10 p.m. A man has been found clinging to a boat about 30 miles west of the Tampa Bay area, Bay News 9 has reported.
CLEARWATER — The Coast Guard has searched over 16,000 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico and found no sign of four missing boaters or their vessel, a Coast Guard spokeswoman said this morning.
The survival of the boaters — former Tampa Bay Buccaneers Marquis Cooper and Corey Smith and former University of South Florida football players Will Bleakley and Nick Schuyler — is the main question more than 48 hours since they set out on a fishing trip aboard a 21-foot boat. The Coast Guard has several crews still searching the area west of Clearwater Pass.
Clearwater’s Seminole Boat Ramp, where the four men departed from early Saturday, was quiet this morning after a day of fret and panic Sunday. The families of the missing boaters were gone after pacing and praying at the site for much of Sunday.
Chris Mayes, 19, whose family owns Jaxson’s Bait House near the boat ramp, said it was clear by sundown Sunday that something was wrong.
On Saturday morning people were “itching to get out” on the first day of perfect weekend weather of the new year, Mayes said.
By 6 a.m., all of the boat ramps were booked and people were complaining about the crowded parking lot, Mayes said. But by 2 p.m., boaters were scrambling to get back, spooked by the winds and choppy waters.
At an offshore location about 50 miles west of the Tampa Bay area on Saturday afternoon, waves were in the 4- to 6-foot range and “the winds were around 10 to 15 knots and some gusts up to 20 knots, which still makes it uncomfortable for most boaters,” National Weather Service meteorologist Todd Barron said.
But the weather turned awful late Saturday and early Sunday as a front passed through.
“Waves increased from 4 to 6 feet to about 10 to 15,” Barron said. By about 7 a.m. Sunday the offshore winds “increased to 30 to 40 knots.”
With grouper and snapper season closed, officials think the four friends may have gone amberjack fishing.
During the winter months, these open-ocean predators are typically 20 to 50 miles offshore.
“Marquis likes to fish for A.J.s,” said Bill Hamilton, who operates Reel Deal charters out of the Clearwater Marina. “I had taken him fishing a few times and he had e-mailed me a while back looking for some numbers.”
Hamilton said he gave cooper GPS coordinates for several well-known fishing spots, including the location of the natural gas pipeline and some deep-water springs, from 15 to 50 miles offshore.
Cooper and his friends were aboard an Everglades 211 CC, a small, deep-vee offshore boat that he purchased in 2005 from Sun Ray Marine in Largo.
“It is a good offshore boat, virtually unsinklable,” said the dealership’s owner, Robert Tronio. “In five to seven foot seas, the size could be an issue.”
Tornio said that Cooper like to run far offshore in search of fish. “He told us that he liked to bring along extra fuel to extend his range,” Tronio said.
By sundown Saturday, the ramp parking lot was empty except for a lone GMC truck, belonging to Cooper. That’s the truck the missing four boaters arrived in. A one-day parking pass was still on the windshield.
Coast Guard spokeswoman Sondra-Kay Kneen said the search will carry on throughout the day, and she could not say if and when the search would end. Vessels and planes searching the gulf have covered 16,000 square miles, she said. The search area stretches from Cedar Key in Levy County to Boca Grande in Lee County.
Word of the men’s disappearance spread quickly throughout the Tampa Bay area, and especially among those who regularly frequent the same waters.
Mike Miller owns a diving charter business and was also out in the gulf the on Saturday. He wondered how the men could have stayed in the water, knowing Saturday’s weather forecast of strong winds from the arriving cold front.
“Anything over 10 knots, that’s really dicey,” Miller said. “The forecast Friday night I saw said 10 to 20 knots, 4- to 6-foot seas. So if just one of those four guys would have read the report, they would have said, ‘We’re not going 50 miles offshore in a 20-foot boat.’ ”
Meanwhile, friends and family of the four men are awaiting updates.
Bleakley, 25, grew up in Citrus County and played football at Crystal River High School. The school’s faculty members are being kept abreast of the situation via e-mail and hoping for good news.
“Everyone is sitting back and waiting for good news,” athletic director Tony Stukes said. “Obviously, there is concern for Will’s safety, and concern for his family. It’s a tight-knit community.”
Bleakley, a 2002 graduate, was a standout baseball and football player. As a senior, he helped lead the school to the state baseball final four, which was played at Tampa’s Legends Field.
Bleakley’s parents are well known in the community and are part of the chain crew at Crystal River home football games, Stukes said.
Bleakley and 24-year-old Schuyler live in Tampa. Cooper, who turns 27 next week, is a linebacker with the Oakland Raiders, and 29-year-old Smith is a free agent defensive end who most recently played for the Detroit Lions. Both Cooper and Smith own homes in the Tampa Bay area.
Cooper owns the boat the men left on Saturday, and friends and family described him as an experienced boater who had life jackets and flares onboard.
The Lions and Raiders teams each released statements expressing concern for all of the boat’s passengers.
“We are closely monitoring the situation and are in the process of gathering more information,” a press release from the Raiders said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the passengers, their families and those involved in the search efforts.”
The temperature in the gulf was in the mid 50s early this morning, according to the National Weather Service.