Hurricane Matthew Vessel Salvage – The Fascinating Process of Refloating a Sailboat On the Rocks

As most of our readers are aware, we recently weathered Hurricane Matthew in the Bahamas. Our vessel was on a hurricane strength mooring ball in Hole 2 on Stocking Island just across Elizabeth Harbor from George Town. While we were lucky enough that all our preparations paid dividends and we came out of the storm with no damage or loss to either crew or vessel, others in the hurricane holes did not fare so well. In total, nine vessels here ended up on the rocks in one state of destruction or another.

Since that time, all but one of the vessels has been brought off the rocks and temporary repairs made to prevent leaking hulls. I had the opportunity to watch several of these refloatings, and following is a photographic explanation of the process that was used in putting the sailing vessel Pelegia back on the water, with notes at the end of some of the other methods used.

Participating in nearly all of the salvage efforts here in the harbor was Roston McGregor, of McGregor Marine Services. His expertise and knowledge, combined the the tools and resources at his disposal, were well put to use in saving many vessels. In addition to all that, he’s just a really nice guy. If you ever need help with your vessel in the George Town area I would highly recommend his services. He can be reached at (242) 422-7146 or via email at hobieflier@gmail.com.

For the salvage effort of Pelegia, Roston and his team started early in the morning by using the halyards from her main mast to rig both a tow line to a large Twin-V power boat and a guy line tethered into the mangroves on shore. The purpose of the guy line is to keep the vessel from coming too far over when they use the power boat to tip Pelegia over onto her starboard side.

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I was surprised by how easily she turned over with her keel buried in the sand. It’s all about physics and leverage though, and it’s hard to argue with a 45 foot long lever (the mast).

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Once she was pulled onto her starboard side and the guy line to the mangroves pulled tight, we were able to get to the port side and inspect the damage.

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Despite the severity of the pounding that she suffered during the storm, there is only one place that she was actually holed. The other locations are severely abraded and will take some significant repair to insure future integrity, but for now they hold water.

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Next came the process of installing a temporary patch so that she could be pulled off the rocks and towed to away for repairs. Roston used a piece of 1/4″ plywood to effect the patch, with the addition of rubber tubing between the plywood and the hull to serve as a gasket. The tubing is the same type used to insulate hot water pipes or HVAC coolant lines. After cutting the plywood down to size, stainless steel screws were used to go through the plywood and the rubber tubing directly into the fiberglass. The plywood cinched down tight and you could see the rubber tubing compressing to form a tight seal. Note that the entire hole was not covered, just the part below the water line and a little bit above it. Since Pelegia was not going to be under sail and the water conditions were very calm, this was all that needed covered to get her to a safe location.

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Since Pelegia had been hard on her port side, there were sections below the water that inspection had not been possible for yet. After the installation of the patch on the main hole, Roston donned a mask and looked below the water line to insure that there weren’t any other damages that had previously gone undetected. In this case the only damages were those that were visible above the water line.

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With the patch securely in place, it was time to pump out the water that had entered her interior. Roston used a 2 1/2″ pump to affect the removal of the water and it went surprisingly fast. Within about 20 minutes the boat was floating on her own and the water line on the outside of the hull was visible and just above the water.

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Here you can see the amount of discharge coming from the pump outlet.

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Pelegia was righted, patched, pumped out, and floating! The patch held remarkable well and did not leak a drop.

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The next step was to get her keel off the sand and tow her to freedom. Roston and his team used the same boat that served to flip her on her starboard side. They attached a bridle to both the top of the mast and the stern and bow of the boat. After removing the guy line into the mangroves they used the power boat to heel her over hard on her starboard side and physically drag her off the sand.

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And… shes’s free!

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There were several other vessels here that needed patch jobs before they could float on their own, and differing methods were used. In the case of the Catamaran Ibis, plywood was used on the inside of the hull with bracing to reduce the water ingress to a manageable flow. Roston then used his pumps to get enough water out of the inside that she started to float on her own, and with the pumps still running they towed her to a nearby beach at high tide to careen her on the shore.

Below are co-owners Dwayne and Blair after Ibis was on the beach, diligently working to restore her integrity. They used a grinder to remove all the damaged sections, including a fair amount around the actual holes where the fiberglass had flexed enough that some delamination had started to occur. These sections were then sealed with epoxy, and new fiberglass was installed in layers over the holes. Ibis had three holes in her starboard hull.

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The salvage of the sailing vessel Vitamin Sea used yet another approach. With similar methods that Roston and his team used to get Pelegia on her starboard side, they stood Vitamin Sea upright with her keel buried in sand. One guy wire was pulled tight into the mangroves and another attached to a mooring ball in the water. They then used a come-along to slowly ratchet her into a vertical position.

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Since Vitamin Sea was sitting so high on the shore, just standing her up offered enough access that Ollie, close friend of the owner, was able to patch the hole in place with copious amounts of fiberglass.

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All in all I’ve been amazed at how fast the rocks here in the hurricane holes have been cleared. As of this writing, less than a week has passed since Hurricane Matthew and only one of the nine vessels on the rocks remains where it was driven. That vessel, Wind Minstrel, is largely undamaged. She is sitting with her keel driven deep into sand though, and it will likely take a dredge or floating crane to remove her without causing damage to the keel.

For other coverage of Hurricane Matthew and it’s effects on the George Town Area, check out these posts:

Our son Jaedin’s perspective on the hurricane.

A full report on vessel salvage efforts at Stocking Island.

A full photographic tour of Elizabeth Harbor following Hurricane Matthew.

And  play-by-play of the storm with video and images taken during the storm itself.

Many thanks to all our fans for the prayers and well wishes going into this ordeal. It was comforting knowing that we have an entire army of monkeys out there on our side!

In case anyone wants to buy us a drink to assist in our recovery efforts (rum is a necessary ingredient in recovering from a hurricane) donations can be made through Paypal by clicking here:  

Until next time – Bon Voyage!

 

 

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