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6 survive night in gulf after boat sinks

The three men and three women talked, joked and kept each other awake; two couples ended up engaged.

[Times photo: John Pendygraft]
Mary Jane Grau, 37, left, is comforted by Bryan Henegar, 41, Sunday on Sand Key after their rescue from the Gulf of Mexico.

By AMY WIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 22, 2000


CLEARWATER -- Mary Jane Grau turned to her boyfriend, the man she nicknamed "Skipper" after the boat captain on Gilligan's Island.

The skipper, Bryan Henegar, had just watched his boat inexplicably sink into the dark Gulf of Mexico late Saturday. Now he and five of his closest friends were floating in saltwater 14 miles offshore, clinging to the three life preservers and one plastic foam cooler they had salvaged.

"I'm going to die tonight, aren't I?" Grau recalled saying to her boyfriend.

"You're not going to die tonight," Henegar said.

"If I don't die tonight, we're going to get married," she said.

"Okay," Henegar said. "When we get out, we'll get married."

Sunday morning, by the light of day, as "Skipper," Grau and their friends were hoisted onto their rescuers' boat, plans were on for not just one wedding, but two. In the darkness of Saturday night and early Sunday, as the six friends battled fatigue, fear and hypothermia for the 11 hours they spent floating in the gulf, another couple among them became engaged.

"You know what, Kathy? I'll marry you," Bill Daugherty told his girlfriend, Kathy Murawski. "We're all going to get married."

Once ashore, the six were treated for minor cases of hypothermia and exhaustion. When a friend arrived a couple hours later to haul them all away in the bed of a pickup truck, the survivors were jubilant, ready to go home and take a nap.

Henegar and his friends had gone out for an evening of night fishing about 5:30 p.m. Saturday. His 26-foot boat had been in his family since it was purchased new in 1984 -- and even had a new motor installed. Suddenly it took on water about 9 p.m.

"We were sitting there, drifting idle, and all of a sudden it just started pouring in," Henegar said. "I don't have a clue what happened, and I've been doing this all my life."

As water rushed into the boat, Henegar and his friends tried to call 911 from a cellular phone, but they could not get a signal. Finally, the group grabbed what they could.

[Times photo: John Pendygraft]
Four of the survivors from the boat that sank are, from left: Bill Daugherty, 42; Kathy Murawski, 36; Chris Raines, 40; and Natalie Lee, 34.

They salvaged three life preservers, but other preservers went down with the boat. A plastic foam cooler, however, bobbed to the water's surface.

"The cooler just appeared," Murawski said.

"The cooler was definitely our lifeline," added Henegar.

They made it through the night by talking, telling jokes and trying to keep each other awake. The women, who have eight children among them, said they spoke constantly of their kids and how they needed to get back to them.

As the hours wore on, they also constantly asked each other for the time. Two of them had watches -- waterproof, of course.

"We just kind of figured out that if we're going to be in the water, we're going to have to be calm and stay together," Murawski said.

At daybreak, they draped a white T-shirt over a fishnet and waved the "flag" to attract boaters.

Neither the U.S. Coast Guard nor the survivors knew the names of those the Coast Guard called the "Good Samaritans" who located the stranded boaters about 8 a.m. They were in a boat called the Tempest Fin.

The six survivors of the boat wreck are: Henegar, 41, of 2025 Coronet Drive in Largo; Chris Raines, 40, same address; Grau, 37, same address; Natalie Lee, 34, of 1636 Palmwood Ave., Clearwater; Daugherty, 42, of 205 First St., Indian Rocks Beach, and Murawski, 36, same address.

Weeks ago, Murawski playfully gave her seafaring friends nicknames from the television situation comedy Gilligan's Island. Besides the Skipper, Grau is "Ginger," Murawski is "Mary Ann" and Daugherty is "Gilligan" -- or, with the first name Bill, "Billigan."

They never realized they, too, would share a fateful trip.

Once the six were aboard the Tempest Fin, Grau reminded them of the promises made in the water.

"Hey, guys," Grau recalled saying. "We have some wedding arrangements to make."

Late Sunday, the four said they plan a double wedding ceremony for Labor Day weekend. The other two survivors, Lee and Raines, will be honor attendants.

The location? Maybe on a boat, Grau said.

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