Volunteers this week found the sunken sailboat that belongs to a young Key Largo man who went missing in early August while on a solo freediving excursion off the Upper Keys.
Noah Cullen, 24, was last seen boarding his 28-foot boat, the Jubilee, at French Reef by a dive boat captain helming a passing vessel at around noon Aug. 4. About two hours later, the Jubilee was seen sinking at Dixie Shoal by another boat crew.
A frantic search by the U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies covering more than 5,000 square nautical miles went on for 90 hours before being called off. But volunteers made up largely of the Upper Keys dive community, which Cullen is part of, never gave up.
And on Wednesday, a piece of the puzzle as to what happened to him and his vessel that stormy afternoon was found.
“It’s been a challenge, but I’m still kind of amazed we pulled it off,” Rob Bleser said Thursday. “I just couldn’t leave it alone.”
Bleser is the head of the Key Largo Volunteer Fire Department’s water emergency team and owner of Quiescence Dive Center. He located the 28-foot vessel using a small remote-controlled submarine on loan from Lad Akins of Reef Environmental Education Foundation. Akins is also a member of the fire department’s dive team.
“We try to take care of our own here,” Bleser said.
Using the sub, Bleser and his stepson spotted the Jubilee sitting on the ocean floor in about 300 feet of water almost one nautical mile northeast of where the boat was seen sinking.
Bleser and other volunteers began searching the area on Aug. 17.
Earlier this week, Cullen’s stepfather Jeff Cleary, Bleser and other volunteers, including Carlos Ruiz of West Marine, pinged the Jubilee using donated sonar equipment.
“We got a decent hit,” Bleser said.
The sub, called an ROV, or remotely operated vehicle, has two cameras on it. Bleser and the volunteers placed a depth gauge on one camera and a compass on the other and were able to find Cullen’s boat close to the area where they pinged earlier in the week.
“We got some pretty good shots of it,” said Bleser.
Video from the ROV is being enhanced by technicians with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.
Cullen remains missing, but finding his boat provided a small piece of closure his family has been seeking since he disappeared.
“It’s been an amazing search, and we really feel loved by the community,” Cullen’s mom, Tanya Cleary said.