505 Barefoot Beach Blvd., Naples, FL
NAPLES — Bart Bailey doesn’t remember swimming for his life after two waves rolled his 25-foot crab fishing boat about a dozen miles off of Doctor’s Pass in the Gulf of Mexico.
The 50-year Naples native and crabber remembers there was a light chop on the seas but nothing to be worried about.
“It wasn’t that bad, that’s why I was shocked and amazed I got in that trouble,” he said Thursday afternoon from North Naples Hospital, where he was being treated for dehydration and hypothermia.
He spent all Wednesday afternoon and night in the water, perhaps as long as 16 hours, after capsizing and swimming to shore with help from the current.
He was found by tourists on the beach at Barefoot Beach, still conscious and able to speak, around 10 a.m. Thursday.
“I’m a slow swimmer,” Bailey kidded, figuring he was on the beach a few hours by the time the tourists approached him.
The crabber had departed Kelly’s Fish House on Wednesday at 8 a.m. to move traps in his 25-foot, center-console Sowester. By 2 p.m., he had 60 traps on board about 11 miles offshore.
“A wave hit and slid the traps to one side and another wave hit and rolled me,” he said.
Bailey was able to retrieve a life preserver and his hat to protect his head and was able to sit atop the capsized boat for a while. Soon air that was trapped underneath escaped and he had no choice but to try and swim toward shore. His cell phone was still on the boat.
“I headed for The Ritz,” he said, referring to the beachfront hotel, The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, off Vanderbilt Beach Road “When I went in the water, you could barely see it, there was still enough daylight for me. The Ritz is distinctive.”
He remembers the sunset and little in between before getting to shore, with the current carrying him north to Barefoot Beach.
“I don’t remember much during the night but I remember getting to the beach,” he said.
Pamela and Mike Gould, of Minneapolis, Minn., headed out from a private condominium on Barefoot Beach for a morning walk Thursday and headed south on the beach.
“We first saw him around 9 a.m.,” said Mike Gould, 63. “We just thought he was sleeping.”
When the couple came back 45 minutes later, they saw Bailey on his hands and knees struggling to get to his feet. He was wearing jeans shorts and a T-shirt and had a baseball cap on, Gould said.
“He was full of sand when we came up,” Gould said. “He said he swam 12 miles. We saw his life preserver next to him. He told us he got to shore four hours earlier.”
Bailey wanted to call his wife, Pepper Bailey, and the couple got a cell phone from someone else on the beach. Gould overhead Bailey tell his wife on the phone not to worry, that he was fine.
“He seemed to be just relieved, he wasn’t emotional,” Gould said. “He was cognizant and he said he didn’t want to go to the hospital. He was amazingly tough to me. It is something to see and behold when you are just walking the beach.”
North Naples Fire and Rescue and EMS treated him at the scene and transported him to the North Naples hospital.
“He swam ashore, that is what is remarkable,” said Jerry Sanford, spokesman for North Naples.
Bailey had been due to return from the fishing trip Wednesday between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. His wife, Pepper Bailey, tried to reach him on his cell phone but kept getting his voice mail.
She went to Kelly’s and a couple of fisherman immediately set out Wednesday evening looking for him, said Susan Bailey-Dunn, the fisherman’s younger sister.
With no luck finding him, Bailey’s wife called the U.S. Coast Guard around midnight and a 33-foot Coast Guard rescue vessel and helicopter began searching about nine miles offshore. The Coast Guard had a general description of the boat and where Bailey had been fishing. A couple of Coast Guard auxiliary boats joined the search, along with teams from North Naples Fire and Bonita Springs Fire Department, Sanford said.
At the hospital Thursday morning, Bailey-Dunn said she had not known her brother didn’t return the night before. Initially, his wife didn’t want to unduly alarm other family members, Bailey-Dunn said. She found out Thursday morning about the search.
“I said to Pepper, he’s like a cat, he’s got fish in his blood,” Bailey-Dunn, 48, said.
Peg Bailey, his mother, was tearfully relieved at the hospital, her heart beating a mile a minute after seeing her son.
“He knows how not to panic in the water and that’s the big thing,” she said.
Connect with health-care reporter Liz Freeman at www.naplesnews.com/staff/liz_freeman