PONCE INLET, Fla. - A 30-year-old dream to sail the ocean turned into a frightening ordeal for Capt. Jim Wilds. He first saw a whale near Saint Augustine but never imagined one would swim into him 10 hours later in Ponce Inlet.
"I was scared. I mean, I'm not going to lie. It was a scary thing," he said.
Wilds said he was sailing to Ponce Inlet around 2 a.m. on Valentine's Day when he heard a noise.
"I heard whale songs. It sounded like it seemed very close and then heard a blow hole go off from a whale."
Suddenly, he felt a huge tug on the back of the boat.
"It almost brought me to a stop. Heard a twang and saw rope and the dinghy, which was trailing behind me, maybe 30 feet or so, give or take, was gone."
Wilds said once he got back on course, the whale crashed into his boat.
"I had my hand-held GPS and my hand held marine radio, just in case I end up on the Coast Guard blotter.
I was very happy to find that there was no water was coming in. That was the first big concern. Am I going down 15 miles off shore and now I have no dinghy," he said.
Wild said the remainder of the rope from his dinghy possibly had whale skin on it and he turned it over to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to verify. FWC said if it was a whale, they need to find the dinghy fast.
"If it did hit the vessel, it could be injured. The rope obviously, it could be tangled so that's a concern for us," said Frank McCloy, media contact of FWC.
McCloy said FWC will be working with NOAA to evaluate any possible whale skin on the rope and said those results won't be ready for a while.
Wilds said he has enough food and water for now but certainly has a story to tell.
"It's been an experience. It'll definitely go in the book when I write it," he said.
Wilds said he is traveling to Palm Bay to visit family and is now building sculling oars to help sail to his final destination. In the meantime, he hope someone will come across his dinghy.
FWC said if the dinghy is found, immediately call the alert hotline at 888-404-3922.
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