Nine days after their boat capsized in the Gulf, it was believed that two Walton County men were lost at sea. Yesterday evening came news no one expected.
It's a story of triumph over tragedy and of survival. But for Joyce and Bob Bell, it's a story that almost had an unthinkable ending. "We were making arrangements for his funeral." On June 17th their son Gerald Chessher and traveling partner Vance Bryan left to deliver a barge to Belize. It was Father's Day.
"He called and wished me a Happy Father's Day and said they we're leaving out with in 30 minutes or so of that time." Bob Bell said.
Within hours, they ran into Tropical Storm Debby. "The boat didn't have enough power to stay ahead of the waves...and the seas overpowered us." Bryan says.
Their barge sank and both men were able to huddle in a lifeboat with little food or water. Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away in DeFuniak Springs, news reached the Bells.
"They said he's missing," Joyce Bell said. "I couldn't understand, what do you mean he's missing?"
Days passed by, nine to be exact. The Coast Guard searched high and low for the two men with no success. Time was running out. Then on June 28th, just one day after her birthday, Joyce and Bob received the call they were looking for.
A passing barge found plucked the tow men from the water near Tarpon Springs, dehydrated but alive. Gerald immediately made a very special phone call.
"He said 'Happy Birthday' and I said 'Who's that?, it kind of sounds like Gerald,' Joyce Bell said. "I said, what do you mean, who is this?...he said 'It's Gerald mamma, Happy Birthday!'
"One of the girls took the phone and I just went all to pieces."
With his life in the balance, he says his heart and mind were with his family back on dry land.
"I was more concerned with my family and loved ones and about their feelings than myself," Chessher said
Now rather than planning for a memorial service, the Bell's are planning for a reunion. Both men are set to arrive back in Walton County this weekend.