What happened to Jim Trindade?
By Mark Schwed
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Six months ago today, Jim Trindade vanished at sea while returning home from the Bahamas.
He hasn't been seen since.
And yet he is everywhere.
Calls to his Boynton Beach home are greeted by his deep, cheery voice on the answering machine.
"Hi. You've reached the home of Jim, Candace and Taylor. We're not available to take your call right now. Please leave a message. One of us will get back to you as soon as possible. Have a great day."
On the Web, at www.jimmytlives.com, he swings a golf club, hoists a freshly caught dolphin, rests his cheek against the head of his daughter Taylor, 14.
Even the state of Florida considers him alive and well. It has not issued a death certificate that will allow Candace, his wife of 16 years, to move on.
And so the mystery that has involved the FBI, the Secret Service, the National Security Agency, President Bush, Air Force One, forensics experts and private eyes continues.
What happened to Jimmy T.?
He was last seen on the afternoon of Thursday, Jan. 12, leading a caravan of three boats from Spanish Cay in the Bahamas, where his family and dozens of friends had gathered for the holidays. Trindade was skippering a new 38-foot Donzi with three powerful outboard engines bought by his friend Roger Gamblin after it was used in the upcoming movie Miami Vice. Trailing Trindade were Gamblin's son, Chris, 24, in a 35-foot Donzi, and Chris' friend, Brian Pratts, 23, in a 22-foot Angler. Roger Gamblin was still at Spanish Cay with about eight others.
About 50 miles from home, at 2:19 p.m., Pratts' boat experienced mechanical trouble. He couldn't reach Gamblin on the radio, but he did hail Trindade.
"I'll slow down," the 54-year-old Trindade told Pratt. "I'll idle along and wait for you."
Trindade's boat was out of sight, thought to be 5 miles ahead of the other two boaters.
Twenty-nine minutes after Pratts' radio contact with Trindade, the radio crackled again: "U.S. Coast Guard. U.S. Coast Guard." Pratts and Gamblin say it was Jimmy's voice.
Later, other boaters taking part in a regatta reported hearing a man radio: "Mayday. Mayday. Mayday" — the international distress signal.
Pratts and Gamblin alerted the Coast Guard that their friend was missing, and it immediately launched a massive search involving a jet, helicopters and boats. West Palm Beach police scoured the coastline from Lantana to Palm Beach Yacht Club. Roger Gamblin hired two private planes to join the search, but they couldn't take off for hours because President Bush was visiting West Palm Beach that day, and all flights were grounded until Air Force One left the area.
Finally, at 1:09 a.m. — almost 11 hours after Trindade's radio call to Pratts — a Coast Guard HU-25 Falcon jet spotted the Donzi, two of three engines idling, boat spinning in a circle, no one on board. It was about 38 miles off the St. Lucie County coast.
There are many theories.
Was he ejected after hitting a floating log or a turtle while running his boat at 50 mph? Did he have a heart attack? Did drug-runners or pirates commandeer his vessel? Or did he carry out an elaborate ruse to run away from what everyone else believes was a beautiful life?
After six months, the mystery has only deepened.
"No doubt in my mind the boat was hijacked," says Roger Gamblin, 58, president of Flagler Title Co., a business with eight offices and 80 employees. He met Trindade at a real-estate event in 1976, and the two became fast friends — boating, fishing and vacationing together ever since.
Gamblin, haunted by nightmares, unable to let go, has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a private hunt for answers. He has hired private eyes, and filed Freedom of Information requests with the Secret Service and National Security Agency, sure that they must have secret satellite images of the area because of Bush's visit. The agencies have not turned anything over.
He says he has pored over charts, analyzed infrared images taken by the Coast Guard and reported all his findings to the FBI.
"I just met with them last month," Gamblin says. "They're still investigating. They, as far as I know, don't have anything exciting in the way of leads. They're very polite about not telling us anything."
At first, the FBI was skeptical, Gamblin says.
"There were accusations," he recalls. "They asked questions like, 'Why do you have fast boats?' It took them a week to get to foul play. Now the FBI strongly believes he is the victim of homicide."
The FBI did not return phone calls for this story.
There are clues, most developed by Gamblin, all laid out neatly on www.helpjimmy.org, a Web site devoted to the mystery. Two coolers loaded with expensive beef and seafood — surplus from the vacation trip — are missing. Two new GPS systems aboard the boat had been tampered with, Gamblin says. And, most curious of all, some 200 gallons of fuel are unaccounted for. It's a simple mathematical equation. Trindade had filled up his 320-gallon tank before departing the Bahamas. He had gone about 120 miles. Gamblin contacted the engine manufacturer to find out that three engines burn about one gallon per mile. The gas tank was virtually empty when it was found by the Coast Guard. What happened to the other 200 gallons?
"Someone was on that boat," Gamblin says. "Someone ran that boat at high speed for six hours. That's not idling. There was no accident. There cannot have been an accident."
There is new information that seems to back up Gamblin's conclusion. About 40 minutes after Trindade's last known radio call, a boat similar to his was spotted moving at top speed 15 miles to the south of his last known position, directly toward a cruise ship, Royal Caribbean's Sovereign of the Seas. Last month, Gamblin, his wife, Peggy, and two friends booked a cabin right next to the cruise ship's bridge so they could interview the crew about the sighting. He says he recorded the interviews on video.
"They were extremely cooperative," he says. They showed him the log entry. At 3 p.m., a fast boat was spotted racing directly toward the cruise ship. Then, for 10 minutes, it moved parallel to it before speeding off toward Freeport at 3:10 p.m. "There's no question that the boat was the 38-foot Donzi," Gamblin says. "There were identifying marks," he says, including the black and white colors and the word "Donzi" printed under the T-top on the dry box.
But even with binoculars, the cruise ship crew could not identify the person at the wheel of the boat.
Gamblin's theory is that the hijackers entered a GPS plot at the spot where they commandeered the boat, then sped to meet another vessel that did not have GPS. The hijackers used the cruise ship as a navigational tool. Something like, "Head toward the big ship."
After they met up, they went to Freeport, then returned the vessel to the GPS waypoint they entered, near where it was hijacked to make it look like a boating accident and not piracy.
Gamblin has no idea why they needed the boat. Run some drugs. Smuggle some people. Fetch contraband. All he wants to know is what happened to Trindade.
"It bothers me every day," Gamblin says. "I'm still dreaming about it."
Trindade's wife, Candace, did not return a phone call for this story. That's not surprising, Gamblin says. Even her friends have trouble getting hold of her at times, he says.
It's tragic enough that her husband, the father of her daughter, is gone, but she has had to hire Boca Raton lawyer Ron Rosenwasser to try to get the state to declare him dead, so she can continue with the business of life.
Because everything was in her husband's name, Gamblin says, she is financially paralyzed. She can't sell her home, can't access bank accounts, can't operate his real-estate business, can't move on.
Gamblin says courts are "a little gun-shy" to declare missing people dead. "Over the past 15 or 20 years, there have been other disappearances. Some of them happen to be in the drug-smuggling business. In cases where the person is declared legally dead, they were later found alive and just hiding," Gamblin says.
He says attorneys believe it may take years until the courts declare Trindade dead.
Florida law states that "a person who is absent from the place of his or her last known domicile for a continuous period of five years and whose absence is not satisfactorily explained after diligent search and inquiry is presumed to be dead."
Friends of the Trindades have rallied to Candace and Taylor's aid, holding a golf tournament May 7 at the Atlantis Country Club that raised about $50,000 for Taylor's education.
But both mother and daughter are suffering.
"They have good days and bad days," says Gamblin.
Gamblin, too, is having trouble.
At first, he would wake up in the middle of the night, thinking about his friend floating in the dark, alone.
"You try to do things to move on with your life, to not think about it. It's impossible," he says. "Every time I walk by a fish on the wall, or see a golf club, or eat fish, just anything, see the ocean, Jimmy flashes through my mind. I've come to the conclusion I'm not going to be able to hide from it or run from it. I just know it's going to run through my life."
So he has put up a big picture of Jimmy on his living room wall. "It was taken at one of our parties, probably in the Bahamas," says Gamblin. It shares space with the dozen or so big fish the two caught together. And there's the giant lobster that Jimmy caught and had mounted just for his buddy Roger.
Outside, in the back yard of Gamblin's 3-acre property near Wellington, there is a new tribute to his friend.
Gamblin wanted to plant a tree. But the project grew into a massive monument to friendship — a gurgling teak and granite fountain with palm trees and brightly colored exotic plants.
"I call it Mount Gay Falls," he says. "Jimmy's favorite drink was Mount Gay Rum and Coke."
On Aug. 1, Gamblin and a host of Trindade's friends will do something they haven't done since the disappearance — return to their favorite party spot in the Bahamas.
"We just kept thinking, 'What would Jimmy want?' Jimmy would certainly want us to continue. I made a tough decision to go ahead and do it again."