Man rescued after 14 hours in water


Published: Tuesday, January 8, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 8, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

Homosassa resident Robert Clark clung to his capsized boat for about 14 hours during the weekend, freezing in the chilly water off the Levy and Citrus county coastline and focusing on his 6-year-old daughter to survive.

"I was thinking about my daughter the whole way," Clark, 43, said, explaining how he made it through a night alone.

Clark, a mechanic who grew up in Gainesville, had planned to go fishing overnight Saturday. He put in at the Cross Florida Barge Canal and was heading out into the Gulf of Mexico when a passing boat swamped his smaller vessel, leaving him to cling to the overturned boat.

The boat was swamped around 10 p.m. and no one spotted him during the night.

The boat and Clark apparently drifted out about 16 miles offshore, which is where four men saw Clark's boat and then heard his cries for help around noon Sunday.

Clark suffered hypothermia and remained hospitalized Monday at Seven Rivers Regional Medical Center in Crystal River. He was bruised and sore from trying to hang onto his boat and was reportedly beginning to get the feeling back in his toes. He also suffered from exposure to gasoline that leaked out of his outboard.

But, Clark said, "I'm getting better. I'm expected to get out of here (today)."

Clark described how he visualized the face of his daughter, Lauryn, knowing he had to make it for her even as he grew numb with the cold water lapping at his waist.

The U.S. Coast Guard reported the water's temperature would have been 59 to 63 degrees that night.

As the hours dragged by, Clark admitted he began thinking what he would do in case he didn't think he would survive.

"I actually had some delirious thoughts," he said. At one point, he wondered if he would have to figure out how to get into a spot in the boat so others could find his body.

The daylight didn't bring much hope.

"I was trying to wave people down and get their attention to be rescued. About a half a dozen went by without noticing," he said.

Luckily for Clark, according to the Coast Guard and the Levy County Sheriff's Office, four Leesburg men came by.

James Selsor, 36; Matt Woodard, 37; Mark Miller, 40; and Wayne McKinney, 41, had decided at the last minute to go fishing.

About 16 miles out from Yankeetown, Selsor said they realized they could see a boat - and something seemed wrong with it.

"The nose of the boat was sticking out of the water. The motor was sticking straight down," he said.

The men pulled up to the other vessel and, at first, saw no one. But then they heard Clark's cries for help.

Following the sounds, they found Clark about a half mile away.

Clark had removed most of his clothes and used a life jacket to swim away from his capsized boat toward Selsor and the other men. Even if they didn't spot him, he decided he had to leave his boat behind and try to get out closer to where he had seen other boats passing by.

"I figured even if they left, that's where everyone was in and out. I knew what I had to do to survive, but I didn't want to spend another night out there," he said.

Selsor said he usually carries extra clothes with him. The rescuers gave Clark dry clothing and water and soda to drink.

"He was pretty much frozen. His body was, like, quaking. It was a little while before he could even say a word," Selsor said.

Given the amount of time Clark was in the water and its temperature, U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Daniel Butierries, out of St. Petersburg, said the injured man was lucky.

Rescuers didn't even know Clark was in trouble because he didn't have any way to call for help and was fishing at night.

"He's very fortunate. It was a happy ending," Butierries said.

Lise Fisher can be reached at 352-374-5092 or fisherl@gvillesun.com.

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