Community stepping up to help Hilton Head firefighter, wife after St. Helena boat fire

emoody@beaufortgazette.comMarch 13, 2012 

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Friends, family and community members are rallying around a couple who lost almost everything when their dream boat caught fire and sank Sunday on St. Helena Island.

Dan and Regina Thomas primarily lived on the boat and kept everything they owned aboard. An apparatus operator for the Hilton Head Island Fire and Rescue Division, Dan Thomas is retiring March 29.

The couple bought the catamaran, a former charter boat named Mother Ocean, in 2006 in the British Virgin Islands.

They promised one another they'd live a longtime dream of sailing the world together.

"This was my wife's and my dream to go sailing around," he said Tuesday. "Our plan was to go where we wanted and then sell the boat when we decided to stay."

The cause of the fire is unknown, according to Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire Department spokesman Lee Levesque.

"This is devastating because we put our heart and soul into this, and we gave up a lot," Dan said. "We gave up a house; my wife, God bless her, she gave up a bath, and a washer and dryer, and everything."

For Dan, the totality of the loss sank in as he walked out of Walmart on Monday carrying almost everything he owned in a handful of plastic bags.

"We sold our house and moved onto the boat, and this was our magic carpet to get away," Dan said.

The fire pulled that carpet from beneath them.


They'd planned their get away carefully.

The couple met and married in 2004.

Regina, who retired from the U.S. Postal Service in 2009, had a house.

Dan had a different boat.

When Regina's children moved out in about 2007, the couple focused all their attention on the Mother Ocean.

They took the caretaker's position at Pine Island Plantation in exchange for housing while they worked to get the boat in ship-shape. The deal also meant the Thomas' could use money that would have gone to rent and dock fees to pay off the boat in about two years, he said. They planned to go to sea in the fall of 2013.

They've been living in a cottage on Pine Island Platation short term and had planned to move into the caretaker's cottage April 15. Everything they needed for that move -- dishes, household items, tools -- was on the boat.

The caretaker deal means at least they aren't homeless.

As difficult as losing almost everything is, there are other losses that hurts more -- the irreplaceable things like the family Bible Regina's father gave her. Her father had been adopted at 10 following the death of his mother, and the Bible was a link for both father and daughter to a family they'd lost.

"That's what kills me the most," Regina said. "My father had a stroke 19 years ago and that's information he cannot give me anymore."

The American Red Cross provided money for clothing and other necessaries to get started, but additional help is in on the way.

Dan's fellow firefighters on Hilton Head have raised about $500 so far, and the Hilton Head Fire Fighters Association intends to make a donation, fire department spokeswoman Joheida Fister said.

A family friend is also bringing Dan and Regina a trailer of furniture and household items for the cottage.

Some people might be tempted to abandon their dream after something like this.

Not the Thomases.

Dan hopes the insurance will provide at least a down payment on a new boat.

"It's something we've worked for for a long time," Dan said, "and this is just a setback."

Follow reporter Erin Moody at

Related content

  1. Flames sink Hilton Head firefighter's boat on St. Helena, March 12, 2012
  2. Boat catches fire early Sunday in St. Helena, March 12, 2012

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