Venice crew rescues boater caught in storms off Siesta Key

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Jay Connelly got into his sailboat as a storm rolled into Siesta Key Wednesday night.

He was sure he could outrun it. He was wrong.

About five miles offshore, in water about 35 feet deep, his sailboat flipped and he was stranded.

A day later, he is ready to set sail again, thanks to one small piece of equipment and the Venice Fire Rescue crew that found him.

Connelly has been sailing since he was 9 years old.

Just around sunset, a crowd watched as he left off Siesta Key, near Beach Road.

His girlfriend was supposed to go but backed out at the last minute.

“I looked at a future cast and made the mistake of trusting that future cast,” Connelly said. “I said ‘I’m going anyways. Weather looks fine.’”

As bad weather moved in, he tried to outrun it, going out further from shore.

“My biggest thing, I was just keeping calm and thinking, ‘What do I have to do next to secure the boat?’” Connelly remembered. “I just went about my business securing the boat. There were bolts coming down all around me.”

All it took was one wind gust to flip him and his 16-foot hobie cat sailboat.

“When the wind hit me it happened so fast. It flipped me right over. Once I was upside down, I knew that was it. I was going to be out there for a while,” Connelly said.

Meanwhile, after sunset, when Jay didn't make it back, people on the beach called the Coast Guard for help. Venice and Longboat Key fire rescues joined a grid search.

Looking back, he says his most important piece of equipment ended up being a pocket flashlight.

He had been on the water for about seven hours by the time his light caught the attention of the crew from Venice Fire Rescue, who found Connelly sitting on top of his overturned hull.

“Through doing search patterns and it being nighttime the flash light gave off a light and that’s how they found them,” said Venice Fire Rescue Deputy Chief Frank Giddens.

“I saw their lights. Thank God I had a little flash light on me,” Connelly said. “ I was able to shine that at those guys. They were a good mile out."

About 6 miles off shore, around 1 a.m. in between Longboat and Siesta Key, Connelly embraced his rescuers.  

Connelly walked away with only a few scratches, but has a warning for others: “This time of year, these storms come up so quick. You think you can beat them, like, I thought you could. You can’t. Sometimes you can. Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes you don’t. Thank God this turned out okay.”