ST. PETERSBURG — In the middle of the night, Hurricane Irma's powerful winds broke a 113-foot dining yacht free from its mooring at the Corey Causeway in South Pasadena and pushed it five miles south through Boca Ciega Bay until the stern crashed into a Pinellas Bayway bridge.
The StarLite Sapphire was anchored to a sea buoy to keep it safe, a crew member said, but Irma was too much for it. The storm's winds reached 80 miles per hour in Pinellas, and ended up wedging the yacht between the bridge and land, it's bow ending up on a sea wall facing the water.
"We don't know what happened," CEO and president of StarLite Cruises Phil Henderson said Monday morning as he watched the winds continue to push the yacht into the bridge.
St. Petersburg police blocked off the bridge and were monitoring the situation. They cautioned anyone against touching the boat, which was also touching power lines on the bridge.
The StarLite Sapphire is typically used for dinner cruises. Crew members said they'd never seen a boat break free like that. Others in the bay appeared to have stayed safely anchored during the storm.
Leatha Porto lives in Isla Key next to the bridge. She spent the night in the closet of her third story condo as Irma made its way over Tampa Bay. Despite being so high up, she still found some water in her living room, which found its way through loosely sealed windows and doors.
She heard the winds that broke the StarLite Sapphire loose.
"The sounds were amazing," Porto said. "You'd have trains and whistles and thumps where you didn't know what it was hitting."
Porto, who moved here from Chicago two years ago, said she didn't get too anxious watching the yacht keep bumping up against the bridge and power lines. St. Petersburg had already sent crews to take care of the problem.
"This city is so good, and everyone's on it," she said. "They know what they're doing."