Archive for » May 27th, 2017«

What happened to Isabella? Agencies probe mystery of missing woman

On Tuesday night, a neighbor watched out the window of her condo west of the city as official-looking men wearing powder-blue latex gloves searched Lewis Bennett’s car and questioned him as he stood nearby.

Neighbors say they last saw Isabella Hellmann weeks before Bennett, her newlywed husband, says he left with her on a two-week romantic sailing jaunt through the Tropics — one that ended with Bennett being rescued at sea.

Bennett said his catamaran struck something while he slept and that he came topside to find the boat sinking and no trace of Hellmann — a 41-year-old real estate broker, his wife of three months and the mother of the couple’s 9-month-old daughter.

The Coast Guard and the FBI both have confirmed they are jointly conducting a “missing person investigation” into Hellmann’s disappearance.

The Palm Beach Post has been unable to reach Bennett, 40, a dual British-Australian citizen with few ties to Florida and an enigmatic past. Hellmann’s family spoke briefly at the start of a Coast Guard search that would cover four days and 6,600 miles, an area nearly three times the size of Palm Beach County. Since then, relatives have declined to speak with The Post.

What happened in those evening hours on the high seas, about 70 miles southeast of Key West, remains, in large part, a mystery. Some of it authorities know, but won’t yet reveal; some was met with, “We don’t know.”

On May 17, the night before the U.S. Coast Guard called off the search, neighbor David Mayer said last week he approached Bennett to express his concern and sympathy.

“He said, ‘Yeah. I’m going to be leaving for England. I’ve got to move on with my life,’ ” Mayer recalled. “I said, ‘What about the baby?’ He stopped and said, “Oh. I guess I’ve got to take her with me, too.’ ”

‘Ideal’ sailing craft

Efforts by The Post to learn where Bennett was born, when he was in England and Australia, and when he came to Florida, have been unsuccessful.

He shows up in corporate records as owning Next Generation Solar in the Australia state of Queensland. Records show a contractor’s license expired in May 2016. The phone number for the company did not work.

A firm with the same name, Next Generation Solar, registered in Florida in August 2015, listing a gated community in Boynton Beach as its corporate address. The address later was changed to another gated neighborhood in suburban Delray Beach. And in March 2016, it was registered with a mailing address at the condo on Oneida Drive in suburban Delray Beach that court records show the couple bought that January for $123,000.

Hellmann and Bennett and their daughter smile from Facebook pages that indicate the couple knew each other since at least 2014 and traveled together as far as Japan and England.

Another neighbor, Anne Fennimore, who lives upstairs, says Hellmann told her she met Bennett online and that Bennett and Hellmann have lived for about a year at a first-floor condo in the Pine Ridge at Delray Beach development, north of Lake Ida Road and just west of Florida’s Turnpike.

Hellmann, a Colombian national, had gone through a difficult local divorce and became a real-estate broker. Court records show she and Bennett married in the Atlanta area in February.

Mayer, who lives in a nearby building and who also is in the real estate business, told The Post that Hellmann told him she’d sunk all her savings into the condo.

“All of a sudden he (Bennett) was on the scene. And all of a sudden they spent $60,000 to $70,000 remodeling the apartment,” he said.

Fennimore, who lives upstairs, told The Post on Friday that the couple “spent a tremendous amount of money on the renovations. High-end everything.” She did say Bennett did much of the work himself.

Fennimore, an employee and a Ph.D. student at Florida Atlantic University’s college of medicine, said Bennett was vague about his work, saying he was a plumber. She said his parents, from England, stayed at the condo twice, around Christmas and also last summer. Hellmann, she said, “liked shopping. She dressed in a different outfit every time she came out (of the apartment).”

Mayer said Hellmann told him her husband was a captain for private yachts. Fennimore said she never heard either person mention a planned voyage, and she didn’t even know Bennett owned a boat.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority says the 1986 Fountaine Pajot Orana 44 lists Sydney as its home port. Antoine Lebreton, a French national, included in an online résumé that he’d gone to St. Maarten, on the Dutch side of the Caribbean island of St. Martin, from November to December of 2013 to help Bennett refit the vessel, then called the Asteria.

“He’s a very nice guy,” Lebreton said this month by cellphone. He said the two talked once or twice a year and he met Hellmann when Bennett came to St. Maarten to buy the boat.

“It’s very sad,” he said.

Government officials in St. Maarten said they do not keep a log of boat sales. But in the October 2016 edition of the magazine “All At Sea Caribbean,” an ad for The Yacht Shop, a retailer with locations in St. Maarten and Toronto, listed a testimonial from Bennett saying staff “provided me with all the information to make a confident and informed purchase — sight unseen.” A call to that store was not returned.

An email inquiry to the maker, France-based Fountaine Pajot, was not returned.But a 2012 brochure by Multihull Solutions, an Australia-based broker, says the boat “is ideal for high-performance ocean sailing.” Affiniti Yacht Brokerage, in Broward County, told The Post the catamaran probably would sell for $50,000 to $60,000.

The web page for a boating enthusiasts’ rally called the Pacific Puddle Jump says that in 2014, Bennett and the Asteria were scheduled to make an ambitious sail from St. Maarten to the Galapagos. Organizers say records don’t indicate if a person makes the sailing.

The next mention of the boat is on Mother’s Day 2017.

East from Havana

Bennett told the Coast Guard he pulled Surf into Summer out of Havana at 5:30 p.m. May 14. He said that at 8 p.m — around the time, almanacs say, that the sun began to set — he went below. At the time, he said, his wife was on deck and wore a life jacket.

At about 1 a.m., the Coast Guard says, Bennett used a satellite phone to call the International Response Coordination Center, a private company, which passed the SOS to the Coast Guard. Managers at the coordination center did not respond either to calls or to an email seeking details of Bennett’s SOS.

Bennett said that when he saw the catamaran was taking on water, he dropped the lifeboat into the water and got into it, fired his emergency position beacon — commonly called an EPIRB — and called for help. At about 4:30 a.m., the Coast Guard said, a chopper pinpointed Bennett about 1,000 yards from the now upside-down Surf into Summer. At that time, the boat was in an area about 4,000 feet deep in international waters about 30 miles west of Cay Sal, the westernmost island in the Bahamas.

A basket pulled Bennett from his raft in 2-to-4-foot seas and flew him to Marathon in the middle Keys, where he did not require medical treatment.

Coast Guard Miami spokesman Eric Woodall said Bennett told the agency the boat had been in the Bahamas and its ultimate destination was Boca Raton. Calls to the Cuban ministry that oversees the Port of Havana were not returned.

Woodall said responders inspected the boat “the best they could from the surface,” and never saw what it might have struck. He said the catamaran is steered by a tiller alongside a canvas seat, near the stern, close enough that a person in it could be flung overboard by the impact of a collision.

Woodall said it was too dangerous for anyone from the Coast Guard to go inside the boat and that divers banged on the hull but no one answered. He said the agency does not believe Hellmann’s body is inside.

He said the catamaran’s pontoons had neither visible holes nor obvious places where water could have filled them, but there were deep scrapes at the back ends of each. A Coast Guard photo shows the catamaran upside down with one pontoon below the surface and the other above the water line.

Woodall said it is Bennett’s responsibility to retrieve the boat. He said the agency marked it and sent out a “navigation hazard” advisory. But, Woodall said, the electronic beacon stopped working, so the Coast Guard can’t say with confidence where the boat is now.

On Wednesday, Bennett told WPTV NewsChannel 5, The Post’s news partners, that he planned to fly that day to Cuba, then obtain a boat to continue the search for his wife.

Changing the lock

Mayer and Fennimore say they last saw Hellmann around the last week in April. Fennimore said Hellmann was with her father and the couple’s baby daughter when she saw her. Mayer said that he and Hellmann “used to talk on a regular basis. The baby was adorable.”

On May 15, within hours of when Bennett would have been rescued, Fennimore said, she saw a car parked downstairs that she recognized as belonging to Hellmann’s sister. Two days later, she said, she saw five relatives go into the condo.

Fennimore said Bennett told her later that after the Coast Guard rescued him on the morning of May 15 and flew him to Florida, Hellmann’s family picked him up that afternoon and brought him to their home in Boca Raton. She said Bennett told her his first time back in his apartment was the evening of May 17. She said he told her Hellmann’s engagement ring and electronics and an expensive handbag were gone. She said she told him she’d seen the family in the apartment.

On Friday, May 19, she said, she noticed the key lock on Bennett’s front door had been replaced with an electronic keypad. She said Bennett also told her he planned to contact deputies to file a complaint. The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office confirms he filed a report that day but will not release it, citing an active investigation.

She said Bennett and the baby daughter were at the apartment from May 20 to May 23. She has not seen the baby since the 23rd and assumes Bennett took her back to the Hellmanns.

Also that weekend, Fennimore said, Bennett told her he wanted to search for his wife but had lost his passport when the vessel sank. He said he had obtained a temporary one but that it barred him from leaving the country right away.

Fennimore said Bennett has told her in the past he and Hellmann “always planned to go to Australia with the baby.” She said Hellmann had told her last summer Bennett had asked her but that she had no intention of leaving South Florida because her family is here.

Fennimore said she saw the “official-looking” men with the latex gloves and Bennett out by his car at about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.

On Wednesday night Mayer said, he was walking his dog and saw Bennett “bringing stuff out. He had someone helping him. They were throwing stuff in the dumpster.”

Fennimore said that, also on Wednesday, she was working from home and saw Bennett going in and out of the apartment. On Thursday, she said, his car was gone. She said she has not seen it, or him, since.

Staff researcher Melanie Mena and staff writers Hannah Winston, Jorge Milian, Olivia Hitchcock, Julius Whigham II and Bill DiPaolo contributed to this story.

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Promoter pulls off Southeast US Boat Show, eyes new home – Florida Times

Apparently, it’s hard to keep a good boat show down.

Despite a four-week delay, battles with the city of Jacksonville, sweltering heat and the closure of two downtown bridges leading to Metropolitan Park and Marina, the 21st
annual Southeast U.S. Boat Show and Oyster Jam only faced minor headwind from start to finish.

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“Actually, it seems bigger than in the past,” said Jacksonville boater Eric Poston. “The crowd seems the same. I didn’t see any drop-off.”

Despite clearing so many hurdles this year, the future of the springtime boat show
remains unclear.

The Downtown Investment Authority last month unanimously selected a company controlled by Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan to be master developer for 70 acres of riverfront property stretching from The Shipyards to Metropolitan Park. Once
completed, Khan hopes to have 300 to 500 condominiums and another 300 to 500 apartments, as well as up to 250,000 square feet for stores, restaurants and hotels. The proposed arena also will have as many as 525 boat slips.

Once the first brick is laid, the boat show will be forced to either fold or find a new home.

Jimmy Hill, show organizer and owner of Current Productions, will wait until January to find out if he can “squeeze” one more year at the current site. After that, he hopes to find a permanent home somewhere on the St. Johns River.

“The city needs a flex space on the water,” Hill said. “You can’t have a boat show in the woods. We need a location that’s not owned by a developer so we can promote the city with hometown decisions. The river is critical to the quality of life in this town.”

The boat show originally was scheduled for April 21-23. The city awarded a permit to the Welcome to Rockville music festival for that weekend because Current Productions failed to pay for the 2016 show and reserve the park. Although Current Productions paid off its debt in January, the music festival wasn’t willing to give up its reservation so it could prepare for the following weekend’s show.

That’s when Jacksonville Marine Association stepped in with a new plan.

Although JMA is in direct competition with Hill’s group, as it holds its annual boat show at the Prime Osborn Convention Center in January, the organization worked with Current Productions to regain traction for a new date.

“We felt it was in our best interest to make the show take place,” Jacksonville Marine Association President Dick Boger said. “We had so many of our members who’d already made deposits to the show, so we decided to help. We worked with the city of make things happen.

“If it wasn’t for JMA and [board member] Carl Cannon and [past JMA president] Rusty Gardner, it wouldn’t have happened,” Boger said. “We are eternally grateful the mayor’s office made this happen.”

The one-month delay and construction on the Main Street and Hart bridges did affect the crowds, Hill

“We had more than 300 boats there,” Hill said. “As far as vendors and dealers, it went off as planned. Attendance overall was down. We had a lot of obstacles.

“We got it put back together,” he said. “Nobody knows how incredibly difficult it was to put this on. But we did it, and we were happy to be open.”

Boger admitted most vendors were happy with their sales and the traffic. Cannon, co-owner of Atlantic Coast Marine and Jacksonville Boat sales, agreed.

“There were some boat-buyers there,” Cannon said. “There’s no question the foot-traffic was down — maybe by 40 percent. It was worth putting the show back together, even a month later. Overall, it was a worthwhile effort.”

George Cassel, owner of North Florida Yacht Sales and longtime participant of the two major boat shows in the city, said he felt the effect of having the show rescheduled.

“A month late really hurt. The reason the April show is better is it’s all about the timing,” Cassel said. “By now [having it held in May], people have bought their boats. We’re already well into the boating season. We went into this knowing it could be like this.”

Several of the 180 vendors saw the same decline in attendance, but most were happy to promote their goods to their target audience.

“There was a steady flow all weekend,” said Greater Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament President Steve Thompson. “It’s been really busy,” he said on Saturday. “To pull this off has been a really big deal.”

Thompson’s group has maintained a registration booth at the show for all 21 years of the boat show.

Poston and Corey Dykes had been to the springtime show before. They recently bought their first boat, and the displays gave them an opportunity to explore other accessories.

“We wanted to get some ideas what to do for our boat,” Dykes said on Saturday. “It seems like there’s a lot of people here and a lot of boats.”

Hill now is committed to finding a new home.

“We plan to host it in the future,” he said. “It’s too important to Jacksonville. The marine industry is vital to Jacksonville. So is the river. We’ve faced obstacles before. We plan to move forward.”


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U.S. Boat Sales Continue to Rise >> Scuttlebutt Sailing News

According to new data from the 2016 Recreational Boating Statistical Abstract, the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) reports that the $36 billion U.S. boating industry is seeing some of its highest sales in nearly a decade.

Unit sales of new powerboats increased six percent in 2016, reaching 247,800 boats sold, and are expected to increase an additional six percent in 2017 – a trajectory NMMA anticipates to continue through 2018.

“Economic factors, including an improving housing market, higher employment, strong consumer confidence, and growing disposable income, are creating a golden age for the country’s recreational boating industry,” notes Thom Dammrich, president of NMMA. “Summer is a busy selling season for our industry, and we expect steady growth to continue across most boat categories through 2017—and into 2018—to keep up with the acceleration in demand for new boats.”

Demand continues to grow across nearly all powerboat segments. Outboard boat sales, which represent 85 percent of new traditional powerboats sold, and include pontoons, aluminum and fiberglass fishing boats, as well as small fiberglass cruising boats, were up 6.1 percent in 2016 to 160,900 units.

Sales of new ski and wakeboard boats, used for popular watersports such as wakesurfing and wakeboarding, saw a double-digit increase, up 11.5 percent to 8,700 boats. New personal watercraft sales, often considered a gateway to boat ownership, rose 7.3 percent to 59,000 craft, and jet boats, smaller fiberglass boats that use jet engine technology to propel the boat, saw a sales increase of 8.7 percent to 5,000 boats.

Sales of yachts (33’ and higher) saw gains of 3.5 percent, reaching a seven-year high of 1,715 units in 2016.

“One of the standout areas of growth in 2016 was among yachts—a category that has been slower to rebound as high net worth individuals looked to remain more liquid post-recession,” notes Dammrich. “Additional trends driving economic growth for the industry include the creation of more affordable, versatile boats manufactured to appeal to a new generation of boaters, more intuitive marine technology making it easier to get on the water and operate a boat, and an emphasis on shared experiences with the introduction of more boat rental and shared boat ownership apps as well as boat clubs that offer access to boats as part of a membership fee.”

U.S. Recreational Boating by the Numbers (Source: NMMA’s 2016 Recreational Boating Statistical Abstract)
• Annual U.S. sales of boats, marine products and services totaled $36 billion in 2016, an increase of 3.2 percent from 2015.
• There were approximately 247,800 new power boats sold in 2016, and increase of six percent from 2015.
• The recreational boating industry in the U.S. has an annual economic impact of more than $121.5 billion (includes direct, indirect and induced spending), supporting 650,000 direct and indirect American jobs and nearly 35,000 small businesses.
• Leading the nation in sales of new powerboat, engine, trailer and accessories in 2016 were the following states:
— Florida: $2.5 billion, up five percent from 2015
— Texas: $1.4 billion, up five percent from 2015
— Michigan: $868 million, up nine percent from 2015
— Minnesota: $710 million, up nine percent from 2015
— North Carolina: $689 million, up eleven percent from 2015
— New York: $688 million, up 14 percent from 2015
— Wisconsin: $622 million, up nine percent from 2015
— California: $615 million, up 15 percent from 2015
— Georgia: $551 million, up eleven percent from 2015
— South Carolina: $544 million, up ten percent from 2015
• It’s not just new boats Americans are buying; there were an estimated 981,600 pre-owned boats (powerboats, personal watercraft, and sailboats) sold in 2016, totaling $9.2 billion in sales, an increase of two percent from 2015.
• There are an estimated 12.1 million registered/documented boats in the U.S. in 2015.
• Ninety-five percent of boats on the water (powerboats, personal watercraft, and sailboats) in the U.S. are small in size, measuring less than 26 feet in length—boats that can be trailered by a vehicle to local waterways.
• Sailboat sales rebounded in 2016 with 6,500 sailboats sold, an increase in unit sales of 16.1 percent over 2015 driven by a 23.4 percent increase in the ‘20 ft. or less’ category.
• Boating is predominantly “middle-class” with 72 percent of boat owners having a household income less than $100,000.

NMMA will continue to release its 2016 Recreational Boating Statistical Abstract data by section throughout the summer. For more information, to access current Abstract sections,and pre-order the complete 2016 Abstract, visit’s new Statistics section.

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Albury Brothers debuts certified used-boat sales program

Posted on May 26th, 2017

Albury Brothers is offering certified status to pre-owned boats brokered by the company.

The builder said buyers receive a five-year extended warranty on used boats, the same as the original warranty, subject to age, condition and the company’s discretion.

Buyers also receive a comprehensive inspection of the boat, including an engine survey, and services that a new-boat purchaser typically receives.

The company said sellers are supported with pricing guidance, a sprucing up of the boat for market optimization, and a strong marketing and advertising program, and the boat is displayed at the Albury Brothers showroom.

“Due to our expansion, we can display more boats at our Broadway location,” Albury Brothers director CJ Rafferty said in a statement. “We receive constant inquires for pre-owned boats and now we are able to serve that market. Buyers prefer to have the manufacturer supporting the sale, installing optional equipment and starting a relationship. Plus, extending the warranty provides the purchaser with real peace of mind.”

Albury Brothers builds semicustom center console outboard boats ranging from 18.5 to 33 feet in Man O’ War, Bahamas, and West Palm/Riviera Beach, Florida. The company also has a seasonal office at the Newport Shipyard in Rhode Island.

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