|FYI — September 2003|
|By Brad Dunn|
Another Crazy Sailor
In May Benjamin Dilalla, 42, and his daughter, Celeste, swam five hours in the Atlantic Ocean—without PFDs—and finally clambered ashore near Melbourne, suffering from severe exhaustion and hypothermia. They were discovered at about 6:30 p.m. by local firefighter Danny Willman, 52, who found them lying naked in the sand about 100 feet apart.
“He was so cold. He couldn’t speak,” Willman said, according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal. The pair was rushed to a nearby hospital, where both fully recovered over the next several days.
Though their appearance on the beach marked a happy end to a daylong search by the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, the details of their misadventure only raised more questions. It turned out the circumstances of their disappearance were as strange as their survival.
According to police reports, Dilalla had come to believe that poisonous gases were spreading across Florida and that the only way to save his daughter was to go out to sea. “He had some mental health or behavioral issues and apparently had stopped taking medication,” said police spokesman Gary Harrell, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
The pair launched their eight-foot sailboat late one night. Police became suspicious when they found Dilalla’s truck at a beach access point and discovered signs that a boat had been dragged across the sand. Later their concerns grew when they saw boating debris wash ashore, including a seat, diving mask, and pair of men’s boots.
Apparently after sailing all night, Dilalla and his daughter realized their boat was taking on water. When the vessel capsized in the morning, they clung to it all day until deciding to shed their clothes and swim for the coast.
At presstime Dilalla was being held for psychological evaluation. Celeste, whose father is her sole guardian, was turned over temporarily to the state’s Department of Children and Families.
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This article originally appeared in the August 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.