Bursting at the seams

65-foot wooden Eastern-rigged dragger was hauled out at a southern New England shipyard. The hull needed extensive restoration at and below the waterline. After seven weeks in dry-dock, it went back in the water just a few hours before the arrival of its skipper and crewman to move the 48-year-old boat to another port up the coast.

The skipper soon found that the main fuel tank had several leaks. It couldn’t be repaired, so an external fuel tank was installed and completed at 3 p.m.

At around 6:30 p.m., the dragger departed. The main/fixed bilge pumps and main generator were inoperative, so it carried four portable bilge pumps and a portable generator mounted on deck to provide electrical power. There were also some issues with the 12-volt electrical system. The crewman was concerned about the condition of the dragger, but the skipper allayed his fears.

Around 8 p.m., the crewman noticed water rising in the forward galley area at what he described as a “fairly dramatic” rate and immediately informed the skipper. The skipper told the owner via cell phone that the weather was opening up, the dragger was taking on water and he didn’t think the voyage could be completed; he was coming back to port. 

At 8:30 p.m. the skipper made a radio call the local Coast Guard and requested a rendezvous with extra pumps because his could no longer keep up. The dragger had 3 feet of water in the galley, and the seas were choppy. The skipper and crewman helped each other don survival suits.

In the next half hour, they had lost generator power, two of the four portable bilge pumps failed, the dragger was shipping water over the bow, and they intended to abandon ship. The crewman slipped and injured one of his legs, but the skipper grabbed him and threw him clear of the rail and into the water. The vessel sank quickly. By 10:15 both men were located.

The crewman was recovered from the water conscious and alert. He was transferred to a local medical center, diagnosed with hypothermia, treated and released the next morning. The skipper was found unconscious. Attempts to revive him were unsuccessful. The dragger, which sank in more than 200 feet of water, was not salvaged. 

Lessons learned

The dragger’s hull was compromised before it left the dock. It had been out of the water for a month and a half prior to the voyage in late October. That was enough time for the planks to dry out and contract, leaving gaps in the seams. These gaps allowed water to flow into the fo’c’sle in choppy seas. The rising water level added weight and stress. 

A contributing factor was the failure of the dragger’s improvised 110-volt electrical power source. Once the portable generator failed, the two portable 110-volt bilge pumps stopped working and only left the two portable 12-volt bilge pumps in operation. The dragger’s diminished dewatering capabilities were insufficient to keep up with the progressive flooding. Consider scheduling a short sea trial, close inshore, to allow you to identify any problems, so you can fish safe!

This article is based on U.S. Coast Guard reporting and is intended to bring safety issues to the attention of our readers. It is not intended to judge or reach conclusions regarding the ability or capacity of any person, living or dead, or any boat or piece of equipment.

NF Aug16 CVR

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