Sebastian’s Buoy Bait Shop faces setback after bait boat swamped

SEBASTIAN — Buoy Bait Shop owner Matt Leonard, of Sebastian, is picking up the pieces of his 24-foot pontoon bait boat after it was dismantled by massive wake in the Indian River Lagoon Wednesday.

“It hurts business,” Leonard said, adding that the boat was his only one and he used it daily to catch bait to sell at his shop on Indian River Drive.

According to Leonard, a 45- to 60-foot motoryacht came down the lagoon at “full board” – at what he estimates to be 20 knots – throwing a large wake behind it. His boat then went airborne and one of the pontoons broke off upon landing.  

Neither Leonard nor his friend, who was helping to catch bait for the shop, were injured in the incident, Leonard said. But all the bait they had caught in the 3 1/2 hours leading up it were lost.

“They’re free,” Leonard said.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating the case and has issued a Be-On-the-Look-Out for the yacht.

Officer Lenny Salberg, of FWC, said that the BOLO will be issued daily to remind FWC officers to keep watch for it. However, even if someone were to see it and report it, it’s “kind of hard” to prove that the boat was responsible for capsizing Leonard’s boat, he said.

“It doesn’t look good,” Leonard said of authorities finding the yacht responsible for swamping his boat.

He described the white motoryacht as probably a 1980s model and in need of a paint job. It has new blue canvas on the upper deck with roll-up plastic windows. The name of the yacht looked to be in blue cursive and includes, in part, “Miss.”

The incident occurred about 1,000 yards north of the big Wabasso Bridge of County Road 510 over the lagoon around 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. Three other boats in the area came to Leonard’s aid after his boat capsized.

Leonard said that he had let the insurance lapse on his boat 5 months ago and had recently sunk a fair amount of money into having a new motor installed, buying new tackle, and otherwise improving the pontoon boat.

Without a boat, In Leonard said that he is going to have to hire a couple local fishermen to catch bait. He said that he had been the one going out to get bait in order to keep the store open.

Leonard and his wife opened the Buoy Bait Shop on Aug. 31, 2008, at 807 Indian River Drive, in Sebastian. The store is known for its variety of bait, which Leonard said accounts for 90 percent of his revenue.

The boat served a dual-purpose for Leonard. It not only was used to go out into the water for bait hunting, but also served as a mobile bait shop for Leonard to sell bait to fishermen already out in their boats.

Leonard said that type of mobile business is fairly common in counties to the south but is uncommon in Indian River County.

The boat is currently in four pieces, three of which are at his house, the fourth – the motor and rudder – are sitting in the water near his home. Leonard can only wait and see if the boat can be rebuilt or if he will have to buy another boat.

In the meantime, Leonard would like boaters to remember that they share the water with others.

“It would be nice if the guys with giant yachts would have respect for others on the water,” he said, adding that 50 percent of the boaters out there have courtesy for their fellow boaters, but the other half act like they own the water.

“It’s a constant problem,” Leonard said, a problem that gets worse in the fall when the big-boat owners from the north come to Florida.

According to the FWC, in 2008, there were seven reported accidents in Indian River County, of which none were fatal and there were four injuries. The accidents totaled nearly $78,500 in property damage. Also in 2008, there were nearly 11,000 recreational vessels registered.

The third leading type of accident reported in the state involved flooding or swamping in 2008, preceded by collisions with other vessels or fixed objects.

Boaters who think they may have seen the motoryacht Leonard has described is asked to contact the FWC by calling the tip line at (888) 404-3922.


Staff photographer Tom McCarthy Jr. contributed to this report.

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