Author: Sean Dugas
A Coast Guard vessel rescued two kite-surfers about 9 a.m. Sunday after the two men spent nearly 18 hours in a kayak.
They fought strong winds and rapidly dropping temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico more than 14 miles south of Portofino.
Dawayne Perry and Jeremy Potts were kite-surfing about 3 p.m. Saturday when Perry’s kite fell into the Gulf as the wind quickly changed direction. Perry used the emergency release to cut away from the kite, which was carried farther into the Gulf.
Perry, 27, of Pensacola and Potts, 25, of Gulf Breeze returned to shore for their kayak and ventured into the water to retrieve the kite. They found it about a mile off shore.
“These kites are not cheap,” Potts said. “We thought we had enough time to get the kite and make it back to shore before dark. We didn’t.”
As they started back toward shore with the kite, 20 to 25 mph winds and large waves battered them, Potts said.
“As we got closer to shore, the water got shallow and the waves got larger,” he said. “We fell into the water about five times while fighting the sea.”
Shortly before midnight, the men saw a small Coast Guard vessel.
“They were searching for us near shore but unfortunately we were farther out,” Potts said. “You can’t scream louder than the engines and wind.”
More than 200 people searched throughout the night, said Amanda Armstrong, public affairs officer with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.
“They did not have any flares, a radio or any communication devices,” she said. “When you are searching for a kayak from the air, it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack.”
With a windchill factor of about 33 degrees, Potts said the only thing that kept them going was the fact that both men had newborn babies awaiting their return.
“Not one time did I ever think about giving up,” he said. “That’s not the type of guy I am.”
Armstrong said the risk of hypothermia is one of the main concerns when people are missing at sea and exposed to near freezing temperatures.
“These two men are lucky to be alive,” she said. “If they weren’t wearing wetsuits, they probably would not have survived.”
The downed kite, which led to their struggle hours earlier, became a lifesaving shield from the freezing elements.
“We snuggled together wrapped in the kite to keep warm, and the water was absolutely freezing off the kite,” Potts said. “We stayed in our little cocoon until the sun made it warm enough for us to get out.”
Finally about 9 a.m., a Coast Guard aircraft from Mobile spotted the two men and their kayak.
“When I saw that plane circle us, it felt amazing,” Potts said. “All our prayers had been answered.”