PORT CHARLOTTE — When Robert Ryder bought a boat at a Port Charlotte estate sale, he spent hours cleaning it, driving from Sebring to where the boat was docked on Ewing Circle.
He put in two new batteries and power-washed the vessel, but his hard work came to nothing when the boat caught fire Friday afternoon.
“I fired it up, had the radio playing, the boat was idling,” Ryder said. “Then I heard a pop in the back and saw flames.”
There was a fire extinguisher on board, but it was an older one, and when he grabbed it, it broke. Next, he grabbed the water hose from the dock.
“I started spraying the fire,” Ryder said. “Obviously it was hot, very smokey, I could barely see anything. I was in the boat for two or three minutes trying to put the fire out.”
A neighbor yelled at him to get off the boat, and he finally did when he realized the fire was between the floor and the fiberglass bottom of the boat.
“You can’t put a hose inside two fiberglass pieces,” he said. “I threw the hose in the boat and took off running.”
When Charlotte County Fire & EMS responded, firefighters used about 800 gallons of water to extinguish the fire, keeping it from spreading to the dock.
Ryder said he had planned to take the boat home Sunday and get insurance on it Monday. He wants to get the message out to others to have insurance and to have a working fire extinguisher on their boats.
“I took the fire extinguishers and stuff very lightly,” he said. “After this happened, I’ll buy the biggest fire extinguisher I can fit on my boat, and I’ll probably put more than one on.”
Insurance, he said is obviously a necessity, “but it’s definitely overlooked on boats because you don’t have to have it legally.”
One of the worst parts for him is that he told the family he bought the boat from, that he would take them out in it and planned to name it “Butch’s Barge” after the previous owner.
“After hearing so many stories at the estate sale, I felt like I knew him,” he said. “The family asked if I would take them out on the ocean in their uncle’s boat, and I said yes.”
Now, he won’t be able to. He’s still hoping to find another boat to purchase, but said comparable boats he’s seen online all cost in the mid $20,000s.