|Bad Day at Hillsboro|
One man’s expensive lesson in towing and salvage.
By Ben Ellison — January 2003
Martin Manin is the first to admit that the boating accident he had last winter in South Florida was his fault, and he remains grateful that Sea Tow came to his aid in mere minutes. But he's so bitter about how that tow was handled financially that he's willing to share his nautical embarrassments with the world if it helps some of us to learn about the darker side of the boat towing business.
It was around noon last March 31 when Manin headed his 46-foot Sea Ray, Sony Boy III, out through Hillsboro Inlet. He and his family--young grandchildren included--were en route from Fort Lauderdale to Lake Worth, and it was such a lovely Sunday for boating that he decided to take a leg outside. The skies were clear, winds had been less than ten knots from the southeast for more than 36 hours, and predicted seas were one to two feet. What Manin did not anticipate was the nearly full-moon ebb tide current that could both square those small seas and set him slightly sideways toward the inlet's notorious south reef.
Just outside the breakwaters, when Sony Boy III started slamming as current met waves, Manin got nervous, considered turning around, and throttled way back. In that moment of indecision, he let his boat drift out of the channel, then felt a crunch, indicating contact with bottom, and both engines shut down. Manin issued an anxious distress call on VHF channel 16. However, moments later, by his recollection, further wave action floated Sony Boy III into the calmer waters inshore of the reef, and he was able to restart both engines. Shortly thereafter, TowBoatU.S., Sea Tow, and a local sheriff's deputy arrived on the scene.
When Manin told Sea Tow that he would try to take the boat in under her own power, Capt. John Estey, who was at the helm of the Sea Tow boat, advised him that running with damaged props and/or shafts could cause serious transmission damage or worse. Manin accepted this inarguably sound guidance and says he then tried to show Estey his Sea Tow membership card. According to Manin, the captain said, "I'll get your card later," passed him a line, and towed him approximately one and a half miles to a public dock.
Next, Sea Tow Fort Lauderdale owner Tim Morgan arrived and did an underwater inspection of Sony Boy III. Manin says Morgan told him that his boat had suffered an estimated $10,000 worth of rudder, prop, shaft, and hull damage (close to the actual $14,000 repair). When Manin again tried to offer his Sea Tow card, Morgan reportedly explained that this case was a salvage operation not covered by his membership. According to Manin, who admits to still being stressed about the incident, Morgan then said that his fee, paid by Manin's hull insurer, would be a percentage of the repair cost and asked Manin to sign a standard salvage agreement, which he did.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.