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A second chance for the Second Chance

Fort Myers Beach residents help find owners of the sailboat that washed ashore after Hurricane Irma.

September 16, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Lee and Michelle McGinnis had almost sailed to Boca Grande Pass when the first band of Hurricane Irma blew out the sails of their boat.

Winds picked up from 20 knots to 70 knots, or 80 mph, within seconds on Sunday, Sept. 10.

"I tried every trick in the book to save her," Lee McGinnis said.

Article Photos

After Hurricane Irma swept up through southwest Florida, this sailboat washed ashore near the Hercules Avenue beach access.

The couple, who had evacuated from Key West the Tuesday before, managed to grab a bag of clothes and seafaring cat Khaleesi before abandoning their home and sailboat, Second Chance, to flee the storm. The McGinnis family was very last U.S. Coast Guard rescue before the hurricane arrived in Southwest Florida.

"I've been in a depression, not knowing what happened," Lee McGinnis said.

But, thanks to a Fort Myers Beach resident and the interconnected world of social media, the McGinnis's have been reunited with their liveaboard.

At some point during the storm, Second Chance gently washed ashore near the Hercules Avenue beach access. She came to rest leaning on her side.

Fort Myers Beach's Renee Jeffreys Heil took a few photos of the ship and posted them to a few sailing groups on Facebook.

Within days, she was getting calls from former harbormasters and people who had known the former owners of the ship, which is registered in New Bern, North Carolina.

Jointly, Lee McGinnis was getting posts to the page he created, S/V Second Chance, of people who saw Heil's photo and recognized his vessel.

"My page has like 200 followers, so for someone to see that, it's amazing," he said.

Lee and Michelle, who had been staying with Lee's sister in Largo, rushed to Fort Myers Beach on Wednesday.

They got stuck in traffic as they joined thousands of others who were also coming back to check on their homes.

"We sold our house and business to buy this boat," Michelle said. "It was devastating to lose it."

Lee and Michelle McGinnis bought the boat in June 2016 in Oriental, North Carolina. They spend several months and several thousand dollars to get Second Chance ready before they sailed to St. Petersburg and then to Key West in December. The couple worked in Key West and rented out the hull as an AirBnB room.

The McGinnis's met Renee and her wife, Megan Heil, out on the beach to check on their home.

Lee said he was terrified to find their home filled with water. Fortunately, however, things inside were mostly dry. Only their belongings had been tossed around, creating a mess to clean up.

Lee even found his favorite Costa hat, which had blown off as the storm approached, wedged into the lines at the

The jib sail was shredded, Michelle said. The mainsail is tattered, but she hopes they can sew it up enough to make due for now. It could have been worse: Michelle said she already knows of friends who had to leave their boats in Key West, and their outlook is poor.

"We can get her cleaned up and in tip-top shape," she said.

Their next challenge, however, was to get Second Chance off the beach. She draws 6 feet of water, meaning she can't float in anything more shallow. Lee said the ship has run aground seven times and he's never had to call a tow boat to get her out, but this time will be a first. Saturday, with the help of two motorboats, the sailboat was pulled free during high tide.

Renee Heil said she and Megan didn't think twice about trying to find Second Chance's owners.

"After we realized our world was fine, we looked at the boat and realized, that's someone's house," she said.

Once she posted the photo online, it snowballed. Through shares and reshares, the ship was reunited with Lee and Michelle.

"The boating community is really tight. It's an unwritten maritime law that the closest boat renders aid," she said.



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