Loose Ships Sink Sailboats

Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 06:49AM - Comments: (3)

Courtesy of Shake-a-Leg Miami
Courtesy of Shake-a-Leg Miami

Two different harbors suffered almost the same fate as Hurricane Irma raked South Florida with hurricane force winds. In both places, tens of thousands of dollars in damage might have been prevented had the owners of large vessels better secured their boats.

In Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, a fifty-foot houseboat broke lose from its anchor and went careening through the mooring field where dozens of boats where moored. According to the salvage crews I spoke with, the houseboat was one of the key contributors to the pile-up in the harbor that caused several boats to break loose and go ashore. Falling like dominoes, boat after boat stacked up at the dinghy dock, in the mangroves, or into a bridge on the west side of the anchorage.

The boxy houseboat has a colorful history. It had been moored at Boot Key for years, and its hulking mass made it one of the most conspicuous vessels. For previous storms the vessel relocated to nearby Whiskey Creek, where it could cause less havoc in the mooring field if it broke loose.  But the new owner, inexplicably, decided to leave the boat anchored for Irma.

Even some of the most attentively moored boats in the harbor were no match for its bulk.

The scene in Dinner Key Marina, just south of Miami in Coconut Grove, was nearly identical. In Dinner Key, however, it wasn’t a slab-sided houseboat that bore down on a local sailing club, it was a slab-sided luxury motoryacht. The 90-foot yacht was tied to the end of a dock at Dinner Key where it had been for more than a year. The vessel was reportedly for sale.

As Irma pushed up the center of the state, the storm dragged a five-foot storm surge and strong northeast winds into Biscayne Bay. That surge, along with the wind, apparently snapped the powerboat’s docklines and sent it drifting down on the floating docks at Shake-a-Leg Miami, a community sailing program that Practical Sailor has supported with gear donations for many years. Shake-A-Leg offers a wide range of services to school kids, U.S. veterans, disabled sailors . . . basically anyone who wants to get on the water and might not otherwise have a chance.

But now their boats, among them a fleet of custom Freedom Independence boats designed by Gary Mull and equipped for disabled sailors, is out of commission. The jumble of boats crammed against mangroves was a mirror image of the mess in Boot Key.

To try to recover some of the losses, Shake-a-Leg has set up a GoFundMe site. Although they’ve met their initial goal of $50,000 in a matter of weeks, the cost of clean-up is costing far more than they anticipated. They are hoping to earn another $50,000 this month. An easier way to donate is to go directly to the Shake-a-Leg website at www.shakealegmiami.org. Although a couple of salvors have launched go fund me campaigns, I’m not aware of any centralized fundraising effort to help the community of sailors who lost their boat in Boot Key. If anyone knows of such an effort, please drop me a line.

Comments (3)

Thanks for your comments. We've corrected the text to fix the geographic errors mentioned above.

Posted by: sailordn | November 4, 2017 2:20 PM    Report this comment

It doesn't take much to get into trouble if your vessel is in any way dependent on the security of other vessels. This isn't to say I haven't been my own worst enemy in certain circumstances over the years. Yet in each case it's been possible to learn what NOT to do next time. This simply is not possible when many other vessels with unknown backgrounds are involved.

Also, Florida in hurricane season? Let's think about that a bit.

Posted by: kerrydeare | October 20, 2017 5:36 AM    Report this comment

Been in Marathon for over 40 years. My issue with your article is that your coordinates are incorrect. The marina in Miami is not 300 miles away. 75 at the most. The bridge is not on the North Side of Boot Key harbor; it's located to the West, heading out of Sombrero. Other than those two errors, your article is correct. Main damage is caused by vessels not being correctly moored.

Dream Catcher, my 45' sloop, located in Marathon, along with another 4 vessels I tied up, survived the Cat 4 Irma and 132 mph winds.

There are very few places you can hide and defend yourself from a Cat 4-5 hurricane.

1. The best is in between mangroves; they have survived forever and will continue to be your best protection.
2. Second best, a canal with multiple tie points.
3. I strongly recommend that no matter where you tie up, you put your anchor down, several hundred feet ahead of the vessel, then use 2 ties (to separate points) on each side; Port + starboard and fore + aft of the vessel.
4. An additional 4 spring lines on each side; again, to separate tie downs on each side. 5. All lines should be loose. Nothing tight! The lines should be set up to work together in the ebb and flow of the storm winds. This will allow the vessel to ride the storm surge and the winds, while no one line is taking up the all the weight of the vessel. The weight of the vessel, plus the drag (wind) are distributed to more than one line at one time. Redundancy is key to survival.

Cat 4 Dream Catcher wishes all to have a great day and if you follow the foregoing steps, you can have a great time surviving the storm. Capt. Don...

Posted by: Cat 4 Dream Catcher | October 19, 2017 3:40 PM    Report this comment

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