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Prisoner’s beached yacht demolished

“Only in South Florida can you have a yacht on shore from a hurricane with the owner of the yacht incarcerated.”


The 49-foot yacht, put adrift by Hurricane Nicole, belonged to a man serving time for felony conviction of possession of a weapon by a convicted felon

Joe Cavaretta

By Lisa J. Huriash, Joe Cavaretta
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

DAYTONA BEACH SHORES, Fla. — This year’s late-season hurricanes washed ashore many relics and curiosities across Florida, some of which are still being dealt with more than a month later.

In recent weeks, a wooden ship dating to the 1800s was unearthed off Daytona Beach Shores. A large yellow and red buoy surfaced near Fort Pierce. A trunk from the 1930s was found off St. Augustine. And most recently, beachgoers gawked at a yacht in Pompano Beach. It turned out that the boat’s owner was serving time in prison — so the city had to coordinate with his family to demolish the vessel Thursday.

Tourists had first posed for photos with the yacht, beached off Northeast 16th Street. Then some people started stealing parts from the boat. And a vandal also spray-painted S.S. Minnow on the back, an apparent reference to the 1960s TV show “Gilligan’s Island.”

“Only in South Florida can you have a yacht on shore from a hurricane with the owner of the yacht incarcerated,” said city spokeswoman Sandra King. “It’s right out of ‘Miami Vice.’”

The prisoner’s boat

After Hurricane Nicole last month made landfall just south of Vero Beach, the 49-foot yacht came ashore in Pompano Beach. The Sea Ray boat was thought to be moored at the Hillsboro Inlet area and broke loose when Nicole reached the state. But nobody stepped forward to claim it.

Law enforcement officials then traced the vessel to a man serving time in a Florida prison in Moore Haven, on a felony conviction of possession of a weapon by a convicted felon. Court records show John Whitley Paul, now age 41, who last lived in Tamarac, was convicted of possession of cocaine with intent to sell in 1998 before his most recent 2021 arrest in Pompano Beach.

Paul was arrested in February 2021 and convicted in April, according to public records. Court records show a caller said people inside two cars were “actively shooting at each other” in Pompano Beach. When police arrived, Paul fled into a yard, threw a long rifle onto a roof and hid in a shed, according to the police report filed in the case. A sheriff’s dog helped get him out of the shed.

Paul isn’t scheduled to be released until 2025. The city, ready to remove the yacht, faced weeks of a legal process. It resulted in Paul ultimately turning the title over to family, and the city making arrangements with multiple family members. It meant the beach could finally be cleared of the boat.

‘The talk of the town’

The vessel had kept drawing attention as it sat on the beach. “It was quite the talk of the town,” King said of the Sea Ray attraction.

But finally it was time to demolish on Thursday. City officials started before dawn to try to beat the clock when high tide would roll through after lunch.

First, they cracked the hull to break the boat’s engines loose because Paul’s relative said he wanted to keep them because of their value, King said.

The city placed a specialized oil blanket underneath to catch drops of fluid or oil that could damage the sand. And then, bit by bit, workers started breaking up the boat to be able to lug it all away, including smashing the glass windows.

Dozens of city workers used a backhoe to crunch the yacht into smaller pieces. A front-end loader with a claw on the end carried the debris to the street. Onlookers gathered behind yellow tape about the length of a football field away to keep them out of the path of the heavy equipment working on the beach. Pompano Beach Ocean Rescue also blocked public access with their vehicles and helped pick up small pieces of the boat that were blowing onto the sand.

Piece by piece, parts of the yacht were brought out of the sand onto waiting flatbeds and dump trucks. The job was finished after about 10 hours.

On Friday, a beach cleaning crew will go back over the sand to make sure all the pieces are gone.

“What started out as a unique only-in-South-Florida story ended in a headache for the city and its residents‚” King said. “We’re all thrilled to have this derelict vessel off our beach.”

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