Gloucester sailboat creates stir after floating onto Florida beach

Sean Horgan, Gloucester Daily Times, Mass.
·4 min read

Apr. 27—Sometime during the overnight of last Tuesday into last Wednesday, the sailboat Shania washed up on a stretch of Florida beach at Clam Pass Park in Naples.

The boat didn't have any crew or passengers, though those who initially discovered the vessel reported it was stuffed with personal belongings and did not appear to have been abandoned.

No one initially knew where the Shania began its journey or how it ended up on the beach on Florida's west coast.

And so the mystery was set and ghost ship stories sailed north out of the Sunshine State.

Included in the reporting: The Shania holds a Florida registration, but lists its hailing port as Gloucester. As in Massachusetts.

Last Thursday morning, Jeff Eagan was at his Gloucester home when his friend, Randy Silva, shared a Good Morning Gloucester post that included a link to a news story on the Shania by Fort Myers-based television station, WINK-TV.

"I was just looking at the picture of the boat and I started yelling, 'Oh no! Oh no! Oh no!'," Eagan said. "My wife (Michelle) thought somebody had died."

Michelle Eagan ran into the room to find out what was wrong.

"Look at the sailboat," Jeff Eagan said, holding out his phone.

And that's when they both knew: The sailboat causing all the mystery in southwest Florida was their old boat, Shania.

Eagan bought the 32-foot Endeavour sailboat — already 20 years old — in Salem in 1998.

That was one year after Eagan, known back in the day as Bodine, and his crew on the Yankee Spirit whale watch boat were honored by the city and the Coast Guard for their role in two rescues from burning vessels.

On May 18, 1997, Eagan and the Yankee Spirit responded to a burning scallop boat — the F/V Corsair on its maiden voyage from Stonington, Maine — on the northern edge of Stellwagen Bank and rescued the crew of three before transferring them to a Coast Guard vessel.

On Aug. 9, 1997, Eagan and the Yankee Spirit responded to the Super Daunty VII, a whale watch boat operated by Cape Ann Whale Watch that had caught fire returning to port with 143 passengers and a crew of three.

The Yankee Spirit crew is credited for safely evacuating about 125 passengers off the burning vessel and getting them ashore safely.

A year later, Eagan named his new sailboat Shania, which in the original language of the Ojibwa tribe in Canada, means "I'm on my way."

That seemed a fitting name for a sailboat. Truth be told, he also dug Shania Twain.

Eagan spent months working on the boat. That winter, he decided to sail it to Florida with a pal.

"We were about halfway there, just before we got to the Chesapeake Bay, when he decided he was getting off," Eagan said. "He thought we were going to die."

Eagan continued on alone.

"It sailed good," he said. "It was easy to single-hand. It had a 3-foot keel and a 4-foot center board."

From then on, the boat stayed in Florida. It was in storage for a while in LaBelle, Florida. When time allowed, the Eagans would sail the Shania to the Bahamas.

In 2014, Eagan sold the boat to man who had a house and dock on the Gulf of Mexico side of Key West.

And that, at least for the Eagans, was that. The Shania was someone else's concern.

Fast forward back to last week at Clam Pass Park.

Authorities, tracing the boat from its registration, said it belonged to a Key West man they did not identify. But it was not the man who originally purchased the Shania from Eagan in 2014.

This week, the owner, Mustafa Abdal-Khallaq, showed up to claim his boat. According to reports, he told authorities that he registered the boat so a friend from Brazil could live on it while it was moored off Wisteria Island. He told them he woke up one day and the boat was gone.

It was the second time the Shania had slipped her lines and just gone sail-about. The first time, it was recovered by a salvager who came upon it. This time, it drifted, wholly unattended, about 100 miles to Naples.

It was, Eagan said, an inexplicable journey. There were dozens of islands and keys where it could have gone aground and wide swaths of dangerous shallow water that could have created all manner of peril.

Somehow, the Shania ran the gauntlet. She was on her way.

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT