Somewhere in the vastness of the Gulf of Mexico and its many inlets and harbors, there might be a blue sailboat with two young children aboard who were taken from their grandmother at gunpoint.
Deputies say with the weekend’s vastly improved weather, there were many more recreational and commercial boaters on the water to help official vessels and aircraft searching for the Salty, a 25-foot Morgan sailboat recently bought by a man who deputies say kidnapped his own children.
And that is a hopeful sign in the search for Joshua and Sharyn Hakken and their sons, Cole, 4; and Chase, 2. The children were taken from the North Tampa home of their maternal grandparents, who were granted permanent custody Tuesday.
According to reports, Hakken, his wife, Sharyn, and the boys boarded the 1972 sailboat a few hours after the kidnapping, which occurred at about 6:30 a.m. Wednesday.
“We are hoping because of the weekend with the good weather, a whole lot of boats out on the water will give us a better opportunity to find them, with an increased amount of spotters,” Hillsborough County sheriff’s spokesman Larry McKinnon said Saturday evening.
Aside from the media blitz of images of the Salty, deputies have distributed photographs of the vessel to local marinas in hopes that someone will recognize it, McKinnon said.
McKinnon said in addition to his own agency’s boats and helicopters, the search for the Hakkens is being aided by Coast Guard vessels and aircraft as well as units from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
“The gulf of Mexico is 200,000 square nautical miles,” said McKinnon. “We are looking up and down the entire West Coast from Pensacola to the Keys and the Intracoastal Waterway. It is a vast area.”
Able to make about 5 mph in good weather, the Salty might be hunkered down somewhere because of recent storms, said McKinnon, adding investigators believe Joshua Hakken stocked the boat with supplies before leaving.
Authorities said they did not know if the Hakkens were armed. Previously, officials said they should be considered armed and dangerous.
An Amber Alert for the boys was issued in Florida and other states, including Louisiana.
Both Joshua and Sharyn Hakken had anti-government beliefs, investigators said.
Hakken's drug arrest came while he was in St. Tammany Parrish, La., attending an anti-government rally, officials said.
The Hakkens lost temporary custody after the arrest, and authorities said he later tried to take the boys from a foster home at gunpoint.
On Tuesday, Louisiana officials notified the Hakkens their parental rights were terminated and turned over the boys to Sharyn Hakken's parents, who declined comment at their home Saturday afternoon.
McKinnon had a message for Joshua Hakken.
“If he is listening or reading the paper, we are all ears,” said McKinnon. “We want to hear from them. Let him have a voice. That is very important. He has a voice. We certainly can’t fix anything if we can’t talk to him. We are willing to listen.”
More than four days into the ordeal, McKinnon said he hopes for a safe resolution soon.
“We are already concerned about the worst case,” he said.