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Fort Myers Princess comes to aid of “struggling” man off Bowditch Point

By Staff | Apr 1, 2011

BOB PETCHER Fort Myers Princess Captain Gene Becker and first mate Jason “Pony” Wilkins show the ring involved during a rescue mission off of Bowditch Point recently.

The captain and crew members of the Fort Myers Princess displayed some heroism on the way to a regularly schedule dolphin tour last Wednesday (March 30).

Captain Gene Becker noticed a person caught in the rip current off of Bowditch Point on the northern tip of Fort Myers Beach and, with the aid of first mate Jason “Pony” Wilkins and deckhand Michael Fuscu, threw the distressed man a life ring until the U.S. Coast Auxiliary arrived to bring the victim to safety. The man was cramping up in the Gulf waters, according to Becker.

The Fort Myers Princess, a modern 75-foot double-deck tour boat that is USCG Certified to carry up to 149 passengers, departs from the Matanzas Pass area behind Nervous Nellie’s Crazy Waterfront Eatery at Snug Harbor Marina at 645 Old San Carlos Blvd on Fort Myers Beach. It was en route to its daily afternoon dolphin tour when the incident occurred.

Becker said the waters were “pretty choppy that day with winds about 30 miles per hour” when customers on the tour boat noticed the victim. He said he looked through a set of binoculars and noticed two people in the channel (one person was trying to swim out to the victim but retreated) before he sounded his horn to warn the “swimmer.”

“I blew the horn thinking this guy was just swimming in the channel,” said Becker. “We pulled up next to him and ask if he was alright. Being that I’m also trained as a rescue swimmer, I could see (the distress) in his eyes.”

Becker said the man replied that he couldn’t swim anymore and his legs were cramping up. The captain threw a life ring to him.

“It’s part of our Man Overboard Drills that we do monthly. When I threw the ring, I got lucky because it landed right on top of him.”

Due to the Gulf current and large chop in the water, Becker decided not to bring the man ashore and threw a second life ring with a rope on it. He pulled him into the calmer waters, where he radioed the Coast Guard.

“They were there in five minutes and they pulled him in their boat,” said Becker, who mentioned his tour boat customers were cheering before the tour continued. “The Coast Guard called us a couple of hours later to thank us and tell us the man’s status that he was exhausted but would be fine.”

The Fort Myers Princess captain gave much credit to his crew and the monthly training that they endure.

“Finally, with all the training that we do each month, it came time to implement what we do. It was nice to see everybody absorb what we teach them and follow through with the procedure.”

It appeared nobody on shore noticed the “swimmer” until the life ring was thrown.

“Nobody was in tune of what was going on. We saw it because we are constantly looking for dolphin with their fins coming out of the water,” said Becker. “I don’t consider us heroes. Any boater would have done that. It was nice coming to action, though.”

Swimming at any point –especially one with a nearby boat channel– with strong currents is not recommended. In fact, there are No Swimming signs posted on the shoreline at Bowditch Point.

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Station officer involved in the incident could not be reached for comment.