Sunday, February 20, 2011

No signs of the Finest Kind

Last summer I received a request from a woman asking if I had pictures of the Fisherman's Memorial located in Cortez, Florida. I maintain web pages for a couple of the groups there so the email came to me from one of them. I had some photos of it but she was interested in knowing the names on the plaque because she heard her brother was listed. The memorial is for the fishermen of the Cortez area who lost their lives while fishing or serving in the military.

I have two Great Uncles listed on the plaque so the story of her brother got me curious. She said he and two others were lost when their fishing boat disappeared in 1987. I had never heard the story but checked and did find the names of William "Billy" Elliott, Paul Right, Kevin Kurtice listed.

She said that after 23 years they still didn't know what happened to the boat or the three fishermen. I decided to ask around but no one in Cortez knew anything more about the mystery. They went fishing and were never heard from again. The boat had advanced electronics, communication equipment and tracking devices but it just disappeared.

I Googled their names and the name of the boat found two newspaper articles. Maybe someone else can help with this cold case.

An article from the Anna Maria Islander listed all the names on the memorial when it was dedicated in 2001.

Overlooking the docks is the fishermen’s memorial, "Dedicated to Florida’s commercial fishermen past, present and future" on Oct 27, 2001. One plaque honors Cortez veterans lost during wartime: James C. Coarsey, Leroy R. Wilson, Warren A. Bell, James M. Campbell and William H. Posey.

Another honors Cortez commercial fishermen lost at sea: Don Akins, Joey Clavier, William "Billy" Elliott, Paul Right, Kevin Kurtice, Frank Lilquist, Michael "Bugsy" Moran, Dale "Murph" Murphy, Mark Rankin, Bobby Thompson, Lynn Tupin, Frank "Billy" Tyne Jr. and Warren "Bud" Wilson. Two of the men, Murphy and Tyne, are immortalized in the 2000 film "The Perfect Storm."

St. Petersburg Times - Apr 26, 1988

Searchers never found any debris from the Finest Kind.

On September 28, 1987 the Finest Kind left Cortez to go on a fishing trip to the Florida Middle Grounds, a larage area in the Gulf about 75 miles west of Tampa Bay. The 42 foot, well equipped fishing vessel was due back October 10. On October 12, the boat with three people aboard was reported overdue.

Because the boat had been gone so long and because there was some dispute about whether the boat actually did go to the Florida Middle Grounds, the Coast Guard’s search covered a large area of ocean from the beginning.

By October 16 planes as far away as Elizabeth City, NC a major Coast Guard air station had been brought in to search thousands of square miles of ocean, but they found nothing.

The Finest Kind was equipped with an orange life raft on its deck and an EPIRB, a battery powered devise designed to pop up and transmit a radio signal if the boat sinks, yet no one ever saw or heard from the vessel after September 30.

The boat should have been easy to spot. Its just not hard to see a boar that big, Bill Baker Operations officer for the Coast Guard in St. Petersburg said, shaking his head.

St. Petersburg Times - St. Petersburg, Fla.




Oct 18, 1987

SARASOTA - The U.S. Coast Guard on Saturday ended a five-day search for a fishing boat and three-man crew last heard from 12 days before Hurricane Floyd battered the Florida Keys.

``I don't want them to stop looking,`` said Terry Elliott of Sarasota, whose 29-year-old husband, Billy, was last heard from on Sept. 30. ``The only thing right now that I'm holding onto is that he's run into trouble and maybe drifting ... something is wrong with his power.

Elliott and his crew, Kevin Kurtis and a man whose name is not known, left Anna Maria Island on Sept. 28 aboard the Finest Kind. They expected to spend 10 to 12 days fishing for grouper.

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