Trapped at sea during Debby, boaters finally rescued

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Vance Bryan and Gerard Chessher stepped on dry land at the St. Pete Coast Guard Station early Friday morning.  It was about time.

"The seas overpowered us," said Mr. Bryan, offering the understatement of the day.

"I'm just happy to be alive," said Mr. Chessher, choosing his words carefully.

The pair had been adrift in a small inflatable raft for days after their barge sank in the middle of the Gulf just as Tropical Story Debby was sitting and spinning and raining all over them.

"We had limited supplies," said an obviously tired and grateful Vance Bryan.  "We had maybe three days of drinking water left."  He continued, recounting the harrowing days adrift, "It stormed for three or four days and we were zipped up and couldn't look out, but today it got so hot, the reality of our situation became clear."

The two men left June 18 from Captiva and were due the following Saturday in Cancun.  When they didn't arrive, a search was started, but no one saw anything until the inflatable raft was spotted about 90 miles northwest of Tarpon Springs.

"And with the south winds with the storm it could have been anywhere in the Gulf," said Lt. Ben O'Loughlin of the Coast Guard.    "Our search areas covered more than 22,000 square nautical miles and as you know, we've been searching for over five days now."

It was another passing barge that took the pair on and waited until a Coast Guard Cutter could ferry them back to St. Pete.

And the duo -- who dealt with Debby on her terms -- was just happy to have lived to tell the tale.

"Without that life-raft behind you, we wouldn't be here now.  We wouldn't have survived a day without it," bottom-lined Mr Bryan.

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