Former Westport man dies as wave nearly swamps Stew Leonard Sr.'s boat
Updated 8:08 am, Saturday, August 20, 2011
A former Westport resident died Tuesday when he was swept off a boat owned by supermarket magnate Stew Leonard Sr. into rough Caribbean waters off the Virgin Islands.
Robert Speranza, 73, the owner of the Ocean Club in St. Maarten, according to the St. Maarten-based Daily Herald website, was one of four people aboard Leonard's 70-foot powerboat, "Stew's Special," when it was hit by large waves traveling from the island to the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Leonard Sr., his son Tom and the powerboat captain, Martijn Haasdit, were also on the vessel when it was struck by what Leonard described as a "rogue wave."
Recounting the accident in a statement issued Friday to the Westport News, Leonard Sr. said, "As we got further out to sea, the waves turned from 2- to 3-foot to 5 to 6. As we were approaching Virgin Gorda, about one mile offshore, a rogue wave about 12 to 15 feet high suddenly came out of nowhere and hit the bow of the boat.
"I was behind the 10-foot-wide bulletproof windshield, which took the full force of the impact of the avalanche of water, and put my two arms up to protect my face," he said in the statement. "But both Bob (Speranza) and my son Tom were swept down to the back of the boat. Tom was able to grab onto a railing, but the torrent of water swept Bob overboard and he was left drifting unconscious in the water."
Haasdit, the captain, dove in and was able to bring Speranza back the to boat, Leonard Sr. said, "and we immediately began CPR, which continued for the next 30 minutes until we reached the dock in Tortola" in the British Virgin Islands.
According to the Daily Herald website, the efforts to revive Speranza -- who suffered a gash on his head -- were unsuccessful on board the boat. Tom Leonard was also injured, but not as seriously.
An ambulance was waiting at the dock, Leonard Sr. said, and Speranza was transported to Peebles Hospital, where he later was pronounced dead.
"The hospital did everything they could. They were excellent," Leonard Sr., who has a home on St. Martin as Westport, told the Daily Herald.
Speranza, he added, had lived in Westport for several years and "had been my friend for 40 years, and his death is so unexpected and very saddening. Our family's thoughts and prayers are with his wife Barbara and the entire Speranza family."