Marker 38 Captains and Tour Boats Transport relief Workers to Island Devasted by Hurricane Ian
Marker 38 responds to the Sanibel Island disaster
SARASOTA, Fla. — Marker 38 captains Blake Stone and Andrew Purcell’s normal jobs are to take people out on pleasant boat tours looking for playing dolphins or enjoying pretty sunsets on Little Sarasota Bay.
But when Hurricane Ian’s 150 mph winds and monstrous waves and storm surge laid waste to Lee County, particularly its barrier islands, a phone call sent them to the heart of the destruction some 60 miles south.
Emergency and recovery workers were flooding in to help. But one of the worst-hit islands, Sanibel, could be reached only by boat because the causeway and sections of the bridge to it from the mainland had been damaged.
Purcell got a call from a friend who knew he and Stone were licensed master captains aboard a recently built 40-foot pontoon boat capable of carrying 36 passengers. The friend said such a boat was sorely needed to ferry workers to Sanibel. All Purcell had to do was call his employer and the owner of the boat, Mike Evanoff, the president of the Sarasota-based Evie’s group of restaurants and other businesses.
Even though it meant risks and long days in a disaster area for his captains and his year-old, $250,000 boat, plus indefinitely shutting down most of Marker 38, a tour-boat and kayak rental business offered at Evanoff’s The Point restaurant at Spanish Point, Evanoff didn’t hesitate.
“I called Mike and he said go for it,” Purcell said.
“It was a good opportunity to help out,” Evanoff said. “They needed a boat with two captains to do it, and Blake and Andrew stepped up to the plate.”
By Oct. 5, a week after the storm struck, they were on the job, working with the Fort Myers-based Florida Structural Group, Purcell said in a phone interview one recent afternoon as he and Stone were shuttling 25 workers to Sanibel. Their passengers that day were the typical mix of workers with tree services, disaster-response teams, security companies, the Lee County Electric Cooperative and other companies.
The boat transports 600 to 700 people a day, Purcell said, through scenes of destruction and water littered with debris from the storm. The workers are needed to repair and to restore basic services to 7,000 single-family homes and 2,700 condominium units on Sanibel, nearly all of which were damaged, he said.
For Purcell and Stone, it meant both of them working on the water from sunup to sundown, seven days a week. Two captains, both with the Master Captain’s Licenses, must be aboard to legally carry more than six passengers. They faced an additional two hours of commuting to their homes daily until they borrowed a camper owned by Purcell’s father and parked it in a friend’s driveway nearby
The dependence on boats for transport to and from Sanibel was reduced when the causeway reopened with temporary repairs on Oct. 19. But vessels continued to be an efficient and cost-effective way of getting workers to the island.
Marker 38 and its captains were expected to be back in Osprey early in November after about working about 30 days straight.
About Marker 38
Marker 38, located at Evie’s at Spanish Point Restaurant and Tiki Bar and The Point Restaurant and Bar at Spanish Point in Osprey, offers sunset cruises and dolphin tours of Little Sarasota Bay aboard a covered, 40-foot, two-hulled boat equipped with a bathroom. Marker 38, named for the nearby channel marker on the Intracoastal Waterway, also offers guided kayak and stand-up paddleboard tours and rentals. Check its website to book a tour when its business resumes.