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Yacht sinks near Port Aransas after fire caused by electrical malfunction

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
July 16, 2012 at 2:16 a.m.
Updated July 17, 2012 at 2:17 a.m.

Let It Ride, a 50-foot  Bertram sport fishing boat owned Gary Edwards, of Aransas Pass, caught fire about 6 a.m. Saturday and sunk into the Gulf of Mexico about four hours later. All seven passengers, including Edwards, made it to safety before the boat sank.

Port Aransas waters were calm around 4 a.m. Saturday, when the crew of "Let It Ride" set sail.

Sunrise was not yet due on the horizon, and the blackness of night surrounded the 50-foot Bertram sport fishing yacht as it journeyed out to sea.

In a few short hours, the crew had plans to compete in the second day the 77th annual Deep Sea Roundup fishing tourney.

It would be the last voyage for "Let It Ride."

Captain Peter Young steered the the boat about 35 miles due east of the Port Aransas Jetties, while a six-member crew slept below in their staterooms.

Let It Ride had only a few more hours before it would end up on the bottom of the Gulf.

"I was sleeping and I heard the captain hollering for everyone to get up," said Let It Ride owner Gary Edwards, of Aransas Pass. "The captain smelled smoke and when we walked into the salon, there was black smoke pouring out."

Quickly shifting to adrenaline-mode, Edwards and Young investigated the smoke and quickly determined there was an electrical malfunction that could be dire.

While Young issued a distress call, Edwards located life jackets and prepared the crew to jump ship.

"We just knew we had to hurry up and get everyone's life-saving materials together," Edwards said. "We didn't have time to do anything else."

Edwards' friends and fishing partners Pete Fox, Brian Richterand and former son-in-law Bobby Johnson, hurried around the boat, fetching life jackets and a raft.

But the men were most concerned with readying Edwards' grandsons, Marlin Johnson, 11, and 7-year-old Wade, for a safe and speedy evacuation.

"The younger one was afraid to jump because of sharks. He's standing on a burning boat and he's afraid to get in the water," Edwards chuckled.

Hearing the distress call and spotting the plumes of black smoke, another sport yacht in the area, "Hideout," rerouted to offer assistance.

About the same time Hideout arrived on scene, Edwards' crew jumped into the water.

"As soon as we got off the boat (and onto the other boat) the salon went up in flames. We just sat there and watched it until it burned to the water line," Edwards said.

Around 10 a.m., Let It Ride sank into the Gulf.

Cody Edwards, a Victoria resident and Edwards' son, said he's thankful everyone made it off the boat safely.

"He's a little shook up, but mostly he's just relieved that he and the boys got off and they didn't have to spend time bobbing around in the ocean," he said.

In the days following the incident, Edwards said he's had time to reflect on his own mortality. He's glad everyone made it off the boat safely, and he's thankful to the crew of Hideout.

"You always know that this could happen, but you don't really think it's going to happen to you. And you have to be prepared or you don't have a chance," Edwards said. "I'm just tickled to death that we all got off there in that short amount of time, and that there was someone there to help us ... It's an eye opener, but it's not enough to keep me off the boat."

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