PUNTA GORDA — When one local man took his boat in for a simple repair, he ended up losing it to a fire.
Richard Coates had owned the 28-foot Sea Ray for eight years with his wife, Geraldine. He recently took it to Gator Creek Marine for some routine maintenance on his trim tabs, a mechanism that helps the boat plane more easily.
“We had to schedule a sea trial to make sure they were working properly,” said Coates. “We were supposed to pick it up on Friday but I told them it was OK if they couldn’t get to it until Monday.”
But on Sunday, Coates’ boat went up in flames along with three others. One other vessel had minor damage. No one was injured in the blaze.
A charred shell was all that was left of the Sea Ray, and since the boat was uninsured, the only voyage it will be likely be embarking on is a one-way trip to the dump.
“Yes, Sunday was a sad day for me,” said Coates. “Boating is the whole reason I moved down here.”
At about 12:30 p.m. Sunday, a small fire that Tim Lisby, co-owner of Gator Creek Marine, attributed to an electrical short, gained momentum and quickly spread in the breeze. Lisby, whose family has owned the marina since the 1970s, said it was the first time there had ever been a fire on the property.
“We are so lucky that it didn’t start in one of the bigger dry storage areas,” Lisby said. “Four boats could have quickly become 50.”
A specialist from the State Fire Marshal’s Office will inspect the boats today to find an exact cause of the fire, according to Charlotte County Fire/EMS spokeswoman Dee Hawkins-Garland.
“We won’t know for sure how it started until we get the results of the investigation,” she said.
Firefighters arrived at 12:37 p.m. and had the blaze under control in about 20 minutes, according to Hawkins-Garland.
“We were very aggressive when it came to putting out this fire,” she said. “When you are dealing with boats, you are dealing with different types of fuel and fiberglass and other types of hazardous material.”
Gregg Cameron, 70, who saw the fire, said the flames were over 30 feet high and a plume of black smoke extended straight into the clouds.
“It looked horrible,” said Cameron, who lives in Burnt Store Isles. “The smoke was pitch black.”
Cameron assumed it was a house located in his neighborhood but followed the sight to the marina.
“As it turned out, it wasn’t a house at all but it was my friend’s boat,” said Cameron. “I feel bad for him but also relieved that no one was injured. It was a very ominous sight to see on a Sunday.”