Salvaging Pumkin

Nick tells...
"I had talked to Pumkin's former owner, Tommy Paterson , about buying the boat several times.  But somehow he could never bring himself to part with her.   

However, when the eye of hurricane Georges ran over Antigua in September 98 the little boat, a C & C Trapper 27, was dashed against the shore at Seatons on Antigua's north coast.  

When the storm had passed she was lodged in a tree.... some 150 feet from water deep enough to refloat her.   Because of the inaccessible location the insurance company determined she was a "write off" as did everyone else. I heard about the incident and picked my way through rocks, trees and mangroves to take a look at her predicament.

I have to say that when a boat is stuck in a tree it's a very opportune moment to get a GREAT deal on the purchase price!  

Considering where she was lying, I decided to encourage my old friend Doug Luery, Chief Engineer at Jumby Bay, who's wife Gabby managed Yepton's Beach Resort, to join me in a partnership to salvage her.  We bought the boat for just $1200.  100 feet from navigable water and in mangroves, most of our friends thought we were crazy.

The first thing Doug did was to stand her up at the water's edge. He leveled her using car jacks extended with lengths of greenheart. The photo shows her nestled amongst the trees after she was righted. The ground was very uneven and the sea washed against the keel at high tide so Doug shored her up against the tree and stabilized her with long legs bolted to the toe rail. To complicate matters it was a Munchineel tree... notoriously poisonous in the West Indies.

The side facing the sea was fine but the other side was pitted with small holes and a section of toe rail was ripped right out.   I dealt with the fiberglass and aesthetic repairs and Doug worried about the minor engineering issues.... like getting it back into the water.

No amount of scrappy photos could adequately represent the toil of weeks spent fiber-glassing, fairing, undercoating and antifouling her... so I haven't bothered to show them here, but finally, after 3 months, the hull was ready to go back in the water. It was a strange experience since I wasn't 100% sure we could ever refloat her. Both Doug and I secretly suspected that we were wasting both time and money..... but didn't mention it to eachother.

When the hull approached completion, we were pleased to discover that damage to the mast was superficial. Doug rebuilt her busted spreader fittings, restructured the internal support for the toe rail and straightened the safely lines and suddenly we were ready to launch.

We had various plans of how to get her back afloat that ranged from bringing in a marine crane, to building a skid. We finally settled on a combination of two.  Doug found a small crane that he thought could make it down the muddy shoreline and we built a skid out of plywood to strap to her good side when she was laid down in the water.   

After three dates with the crane, it still hadn't shown up. On the fourth try the crane came.... but sank in the soft mangrove shoreline. So it was that we went into the road building business, hired a bulldozer and cut a short road through the embankment for the crane. 

Finally on Saturday the 6th Feb 1999, 5 months after the storm, PUMKIN was lifted into the water... 2 feet of water!  The crane lifted her over the rocks that she had previously pounded upon and about 50 feet out to the sea. In the photos she looks close to shore but it's deceiving and despite the acute angle, the hull is actually floating. You can see Doug in the red shirt contemplating what to do next.   Sailing buddies Ian and John came along to lend a hand.

We used a rope from the crane which we wrapped around the keel to lift the heaviest part of the boat while we shunted the floating hull out another 10 feet or so. Then using a yoke of lines from bow and stern attached to anchors in deep water we attempted to winch her out farther on the submerged skid. 

That was where our plan faltered.

The sea bottom was made up of loose, broken, coral and weed. No matter how far Ian and I rowed out, the anchors failed to hold. For a while it looked like we were stuck tight. 

We had minor success using the anchors to mount submerged blocks that allowed us to lead long lines back to the powerful winch on the crane but soon that proved too much for the anchor's holding power too.

The breakthrough came when the previous owner, Tommy, who had been an enthusiastic and very constructive contributor to the task, suggested that we attach the blocks to the end of the wreaked jetty..... low down where the pilings sink into the sea bed. Although that didn't take the shortest route into deep water we were able to run the lines back to the crane and quite quickly hauled Pumkin to the jetty end in about 4 feet of water. 

The photo above tells the story. The hurricane smashed jetty, the crane and PUMKIN now only half a boat length from deep water. The red dot between the two boats is Doug standing on the edge of the reef connecting a line from PUMKIN's bow to the stern of the adjacent anchored sailboat owned by Serge, another local racer.  

Tommy used the other boat to drag PUMKIN's keel off the shelf and suddenly after 5 hours of labor.... she was floating free again!   

Tommy immediately asked if he could buy her back !    Despite a few tape marks where we had protected her good side from the slings, we hadn't put a new scratch on her.

On Sunday 7th we took her on a tentative sail... but that's another story.

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