|Bad Day at Hillsboro|
Part 2: Nonetheless, the incident illuminates some larger truths that every boater should be aware of.
By Ben Ellison
Later, Manin was shocked, first when he learned that Morgan had filed an $82,500 salvage claim and second when his insurance company settled the matter with a $30,000 payment just a few days later. He believes that Sea Tow Fort Lauderdale misled him in several ways, and he’s concerned that the large fee may significantly affect his marine insurance premium and to a lesser degree the premiums of the whole yachting community. So he’s gone on the warpath, publicizing how he was “scammed by unscrupulous, unethical individuals who portray themselves as a company that renders a service to the boating community.”
Needless to say, Morgan has an entirely different view of the incident. Calling Manin’s charges “ridiculous,” he says that Estey actually towed Sony Boy III off the reef and thus saved the vessel from “imminent peril”—the legal term critical to what he claims is an “obvious” salvage case. As for the fee, Morgan says that he simply explained to Manin how salvage rewards are calculated on the value of the boat and the amount of danger it was in and says he “bristles” when boaters turn from gratitude for a rescue to resentment over the bill.
After extensive investigation, I could write a long essay on the complicated business of towing and salvage, but I still can’t nail down exactly what happened on that Sunday at Hillsboro. While I heard Manin’s adamant claim that he was floating free and out of danger, convincingly corroborated by the TowBoatU.S. captain on scene, the deputy sheriff’s report says, “the listed vessel was on the reef, going up and down with the wave action.” Manin’s and Estey’s versions of what was said before the tow have a similar “he said, she said” quality. Nonetheless, the incident illuminates some larger truths that every boater should be aware of.
Nearly every contractor or franchisee providing services for the big towing companies is also an independent salvor. That makes sense, as similar equipment and skills are required for both businesses, and the regular flow of service tows can nicely balance the unpredictable ups and downs of salvage. However, the duality can be confusing. There’s Manin, membership card in hand, fairly reasonably presuming that—having lucked through a close call—his bright yellow service provider with “Free Towing for Members” on the side is simply providing service. And then there are the Sea Tow captains, having heard the distress call and knowing the local dangers, fairly reasonably presuming that this was a potentially lucrative salvage situation instead of a “nonemergency” tow covered by their franchise obligation.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.