Elderly boater joins efforts to refloat sailboat

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. - One of two men rescued after their crippled sailboard drifted ashore on Ponte Vedra Beach on Monday night was on hand Wednesday as efforts began to tow the vessel back into the water.

Francis Saunders, 86, of Port St. Lucie, and Jerry Willis, 71, of Cocoa Beach, were hanging onto the side of the aft end and looked to be tired and confused when St. Johns County Fire-Rescue personnel found them about 11:25 p.m. in the 3000 block of South Ponte Vedra Boulevard.

The two men were hospitalized with minor injuries, but released. A dog also on board was temporarily taken to St. Johns County Animal Control.

The men said they were trying to sail from Port St. Lucie to the Bahamas, when they say they lost power and drifted for several days. Officials said a rope dangling over the side of the ship had gotten tangled in the propeller.

Saunders, who owns the boat, said he is grateful for everyone's support.

"This community has been very helpful to myself and my crew," Saunders said.

The first effort by the company SeaTow to refloat the boat Wednesday morning was unsuccessful, but they plan to try again Wednesday evening.

"I'm encouraged. The boat seems to be in pretty good condition," Saunders said. "Let's hope that they are successful in their efforts tonight."

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