On the hunt for missing sailboats after Hurricane Irma swamps Miami marinas

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Jamie Larson and Mark Raun made their home in a six-ton sailboat moored off Miami, and now they can’t find the 35-foot vessel.

“She could be halfway down to the Keys by now,” said Raun, a truck driver who was somewhere in Wisconsin with Larson when Hurricane Irma churned through Biscayne Bay and sank dozens of boats along the Miami coast. “You’d be amazed what the winds can do.”

Up and down the Biscayne shoreline, Irma has sparked a grim and unlikely exercise of lost-and-found: owners of bus-sized sailboats looking for their vessels, and owners of waterfront property stuck with multi-ton cruisers in their backyards.

boats on land

Hurricane Irma sent two sailboats onto the backyard of this mansion on the Biscayne Bay waterfront between Coconut Grove and Coral Gables.

dhanks@miamiherald.com DOUGLAS HANKS

Registration information should eventually connect most of the parties, followed by a nautical diagnosis on whether the boats can be salvaged by a crane or destroyed on the spot. But it’s a challenging process, given post-Irma communication handicaps, extensive damage to hulls wiping out identifying markings, and the outright sinking of some vessels.

More than 72 hours after Irma cleared out of Miami, Larson and Raun don’t know if their boat, a Pearson 35 they bought about nine years ago, survived the storm.

“The sailing community is very close. They take care of each other,” Larson said. “They’re looking all over.”

sixteen

A red channel marker designates the edge of navigable water off the shore near Coconut Grove. Hurricane Irma pushed a sailboat well past that point, and onto the backyard of a mansion.

dhanks@miamiherald.com DOUGLAS HANKS

Larson and Raun’s boat, El Coqui, is one of dozens parted from anchorages during Irma, the worst storm to strike the Miami waterfront since Katrina and Wilma in 2005. Miami-Dade’s Matheson Hammock Marina suffered eight sunken boats, as well as damage to docks and flooding at the restaurant there, the Red Fish Grill, said parks administrator Tom Morgan. Miami’s city-owned Dinner Key Marina saw extensive damage, with Irma leaving multimillion-dollar yachts impaled on docks and half submerged with the lines still tied fast to piers.

At PortMiami, crews had to clear four submerged sailboats from the channel to allow cruise ships to begin using the passenger terminals again. And across Miami, towboat operators are being flooded with calls for help with vessels that Irma sent well below their waterlines.

clarington

A pile-up of sailboats on Clarington Island, a spoil island that sits off of the Coconut Grove Sailing Club. To the left is a sailboat safely secured to one of the club’s moorings after returning to the area after Irma passed. Almost all of the sailboats on the mooring field left prior to Irma’s arrival.

dhanks@miamiherald.com DOUGLAS HANKS

“They’re everywhere,” said Capt. Chris Smith of Sea Tow Miami. “We’ve raised about 36 or 37 boats.”

Larson and Raun first knew something was wrong with El Coqui when friends in Miami contacted them about a Miami Herald report on some photographs in a plastic bag that washed ashore in Coconut Grove. A passerby found them and was looking for the owner. The Herald published the photos online, along with Larson’s name, which was on an envelope found with the pictures.

sunken at dinner key

A sunken power boat at Miami’s Dinner Key Marina, which suffered extensive damage from Hurricane Irma.

dhanks@miamiherald.com DOUGLAS HANKS

When Larson heard about the story from a Dinner Key friend, she figured the flotsam from El Coqui meant Irma had delivered a severe blow to the city-run mooring field that’s on the other side of a spoil island from a marina.

“Then the pictures started coming in of the devastation,” Larson said. “It’s horrifying.”

Miami Herald staff writer Mimi Whitefield contributed to this report.


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