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Florida boatbuilder to discuss Gulf relief effort on CNN

A Florida boatbuilder who teamed up with singer Jimmy Buffett to manufacture a line of custom flats boats designed to rescue wildlife affected by the Gulf oil spill will be featured on CNN's AC360 news show with Anderson Cooper at 10 p.m. tonight.

Mark Castlow, owner of Dragonfly Boatworks in Vero Beach, filmed a segment Monday with reporter Tom Foreman in which he and sales manager Jimbo Meador discussed the bureaucracy that is keeping them from putting their rescue boats to use.

"There are so many people that are connected to nature and the water that want to help, but there's a political and corporate noose around the Gulf," Castlow told Trade Only Today.

Castlow said his company is about to launch its second 17-foot Shallow Water Attention Terminal, or SWAT, rescue boat, but scientists at the University of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Coast Research Laboratory are prohibited from using them to rescue wildlife by BP's Incident Command Center.

"We have this great rescue craft, but we can't put anybody on it to do some good," Castlow said. He and Meador took Foreman out on the first boat from Fairhope, Ala., as part of the segment to air tonight and to be repeated Wednesday.

Castlow is hoping the publicity will promote his newly created Dragonfly Environmental Army, a grassroots movement to break the bureaucratic gridlock preventing concerned citizens from helping with the crisis in the Gulf. A website is in the works, but for now those interested are urged to all (772) 567-8835 for information on getting involved.

The genesis for the SWAT boat project began with the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig.

"Two days after the explosion, I thought, If this stuff ever moves into the marshlands and the estuaries it'll be a nightmare scenario," said Castlow, 58. "Our business is shallow-water boats. It's something we know, and we knew we had to do something."

Castlow called Meador with his idea. Meador happened to be fishing in the Bahamas with his longtime friend Jimmy Buffett.

"Mark ran it by Jimmy, and he really liked the idea, and he said let's go ahead and start building some of these boats," said Meador, 67, who grew up with Buffett on the Gulf Coast. "[Buffett is] always interested in doing what he can for the environment, especially the marine environment."

Buffett is funding the construction of four SWAT boats, which draw just 9 or 10 inches when loaded. A bow-mounted electric trolling motor lets rescuers approach wildlife quietly. For primary propulsion, outboard manufacturer BRP is providing 40-hp Evinrude E-TEC 2-strokes.

A work table mounted amidships is coated with a non-skid material to prevent the animals from slipping. "These birds will be highly stressed, so we don't want to cause more stress," said Castlow, a former part owner of Maverick, Hewes and Pathfinder boats.

Knowing the work will be done in heat that can be extreme, Castlow equipped the SWAT boats with solar fans and a misting system, and a collapsible canopy shades the entire deck. They also will have laptops and webcams on board, so anyone with an Internet connection will be able to watch the work in real time, says Castlow.

The August issue of Soundings Trade Only will include a more comprehensive look at Castlow's project.

— Chris Landry

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