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    Items: $14; surviving in the gulf: priceless

    Thanks to flares and a pair of life preservers, two men are rescued after their boat sinks.

    By MIKE BRASSFIELD
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 17, 2002


    DUNEDIN -- Mark Rose and Mike Keating owe their lives to a pair of $4 life preservers and a $6 bag of flares.

    The two Pinellas County men were fishing Saturday in a 16-foot skiff in the Gulf of Mexico about 3 miles west of Dunedin. Their small boat took on water and sank, and the two men treaded water for about an hour and a half before another fishing boat spotted one of their flares and rescued them.

    "When you hit that freezing water, it's like you can't even breathe. We were out of breath, out of life, had no strength left," said Rose, 37, of Oldsmar. "The flotation devices around our necks saved us -- those little orange ones you don't think would save your life. It was a $4 item that the guy at Boater's World pushed on me."

    Rose and his friend Keating, 38, of Clearwater went fishing for grouper Saturday morning in Rose's new boat, the Outcast. They left from the Dunedin Causeway about 9 a.m. A few miles from shore, they started running into 4- and 5-foot waves.

    "The weather changed in an instant. The waves got into the boat," Rose said. "It's a low-sided boat, and it took on so much water, the bilge pump just couldn't keep up."

    The men had a ship-to-shore radio, but they lost it when their boat sank. They grabbed life preservers and flares. Over the next hour and a half, they kept afloat, shot off their flares and tried not to lose hope.

    "In the ice-cold water, your body pretty much shuts down," Rose said. "I was starting to have thoughts about my wife planning my funeral."

    Their last flare was spotted by a group of fishermen on a boat piloted by Bill Hopkins, based at Homeport Marina in Dunedin. They rescued Rose and Keating. The two men, although shivering badly, did not require hospitalization.

    Rose's skiff, submerged in 18 feet of water, was later salvaged by Capt. Howard Levy, an independent salvaging contractor.

    "They had a pretty scary experience," Levy said. "They got caught in a situation where the wind and waves changed pretty quickly. They were in small boat offshore, and they got swamped.

    "Unfortunately, it happens way too often. People don't realize the ocean is pretty powerful, and you're just a speck out there."

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