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Settlement ends sailboat tiff

Pinellas Marine Institute, which received the donated boat, will share sales proceeds with the couple who found it at sea.

By Waveney Ann Moore, Times Staff Writer
Published February 17, 2008


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ST. PETE BEACH - Four months after her father's death, Renee Leonard says she's relieved that the controversy surrounding his 37-foot sailboat appears to be over.

In October, Leonard donated her father's boat to the Pinellas Marine Institute in Pass-a-Grille, where nonviolent youth offenders learn about marine science, work toward their high school equivalency diplomas or return to regular classes.

Then came a surprising hitch.

The couple who discovered the Tranquility anchored 65 nautical miles west of John's Pass and notified the Coast Guard, hired a lawyer and demanded financial compensation for lost time and income. The Pinellas Marine Institute, balking at legal entanglements, asked Leonard to remove the boat from its property.

Now an agreement has been reached. The marine institute has accepted the boat and agreed to give Ronald and Sunshine Rathey, the couple who found the Tranquility, a percentage of its sale price, said their lawyer, Frank D. Butler.

"Whatever PMI gets, they will get 25 percent of it. They're happy," he said.

The Ratheys, who make a living in commercial fishing, had claimed a maritime lien against the vessel. Under maritime law, Butler explained last fall, "when somebody provides a service for a vessel, like fuel, repairs, it creates a maritime lien against the vessel."

Leonard, who lives in Tennessee, said she heard of the settlement from a friend, who called to say that the boat was being repaired at the marine institute.

"I'm relieved that this unfortunate ordeal with the Ratheys is behind me and that the youth can finally benefit from my father's boat," she said.

"I think it is very sad that the Ratheys and their lawyer have profited from this tragedy. I have made a suggestion to Frank Butler that it would be nice of him to donate back a percentage of his earnings to PMI."

Boat donations help fund the programs at PMI, where students work on the vessels before they are sold to benefit the program.

The marine institute is expecting the boat to sell for about $5,000 to $10,000, said Michele Money, director of communications for Associated Marine Institutes in Tampa.

"The students are working on cleaning and preparing the boat for sale. They anticipate finishing it in the next 30 days," she said.

Leonard was on vacation in Orlando on Oct. 18 with her husband and children when the Coast Guard called to say that her father's boat had been found. Her father, Ulyses Emanuel "Sam" Didier III, 69, was missing.

According to a Coast Guard report, the Ratheys, who were aboard their boat, Sundancer, reported spotting the abandoned vessel. The Coast Guard asked the Ratheys to check to see whether anyone was on board and asked the couple to remain on the scene until the Coast Guard cutter Hawk arrived. A Coast Guard spokesman said the Ratheys' official involvement in the incident would have been about five hours. The Coast Guard searched for Didier for about 28 hours. His body was not found.

Early in December, Leonard held a memorial service for her father in Shreveport, La.

"That was where he grew up and he had a lot of friends there and where he had originally wanted to have his ashes scattered - half in his burial plot and half in the Red River."

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or 727 892-2283.

[Last modified February 16, 2008, 23:50:35]


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