Monday, July 1, 2013

Loss of Sunshine

Robert (Bob) and George Weston Rettie grew up in Chicago with a father working as an Engineer on the railroad. Both were in the Coast Guard during WWII. That experience on the water must have motivated them to try their hand at commercial fishing.

St Petersburg Times Sept 23 1946
They bought a 66 foot sailing yacht in Illinois after the war ended. They sailed it down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico and then on to Cortez, Florida. There they converted the Yawl into a deep sea fishing boat. They installed an auxiliary motor and insulated holds to store ice and the fish they planned to catch.

The maiden trip of the Sunshine didn't go so well. It exploded and sunk 38 miles off the coast of St. Petersburg, Florida on Friday September 20, 1946. Bob Rettie, the only survivor from the four man crew, said the boat struck a mine, left over from those the Navy had placed in the Gulf to prevent German U-Boats from coming in Tampa Bay.

St Petersburg Times Sept 24 1946

Killed in the explosion and sinking were John Van Leer of Bradenton Beach and Warren “Buddy” Lincoln Wilson of Cortez. Buddy was my grandmother's brother. Missing and presumed drowned was Frank Lilliquist of Cortez.

They were fishing for Grouper and had already caught a boat load. The left Cortez on Wednesday and the explosion happened Friday night.

According to Rettie, the explosion caused a huge fire and the blast threw 300 pound blocks of ice through the bulkhead. The Sunshine sank almost immediately but then the Pilot house, torn loose from the hull bobbed to the surface. Rettie and Wilson were able to swim to it and crawl on top. Van Leer had lost both hands to the fire so Rettie had to swim several hundred feet to get to him and bring him back to the makeshift lifeboat. Both Wilson and Van Leer were severely burned and Rettie tied them to the raft to keep them from falling off.

St Petersburg Times Sept 27 1946
Van Leer died Saturday afternoon and Wilson died later Saturday night. The men were found Sunday around 11 am by another fishing boat.

Some debris floated up on Anna Maria Island about a week later but the boat itself was never seen again. Rettie told authorities the explosion was caused by a mine and was on the stern of the boat, away from the engine and gas tank.

Just a couple days later his brother George was quoted in the paper asking people to report any debris they found. He was hoping to find the Pilot house and prove the explosion was from a Navy mine. If they could do that, then the Government would compensate for the loss of life and the boat. Since the Sunshine was never found that never happened.

Warren Lincoln Wilson was born on July 4, 1915 in Oneco, Florida to Ben and Ida Wilson. He married Dorothy Michael in 1936 and they had three children living when he died in 1946. He served as a Private in the Army during WWII. He was buried next to his brother Leroy in the Manasoto Cemetery in Bradenton.

The Rettie brothers left Cortez after the loss of the Sunshine. Bob moved to Tampa and his brother George moved to Miami.


Julie Adams said...

Wow. How terribly sad!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing Mark!

There's more on George Weston RETTIE on WikiTree:

And on my blog: