Okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve become a tad cynical over the years. So when the Deepwater Horizon exploded catastrophically on April 20, 2010, killing 11 crewmen, I cynically watched developments on TV, day after day, feeling steadily more dismal over the resultant oil spill and what it was gonna do to the Gulf Coast and, more particularly (and selfishly perhaps), Panama City, Florida, the place where my wife and I were keeping our Grand Banks trawler Betty Jane. Having spent several of my youthful years working on oil-field boats in the Gulf, a job that put me cheek-by-jowl with big oil companies like BP, I figured I knew the score. Everybody was gonna lose … except BP!
The spill finally came to Panama City, or at least seemed to for a day or so. One anxious morning, a friend called from our marina with the frantic (but inaccurate, as it turned out) news that the pass was sheened-over. Shortly thereafter, an e-mail from our harbormaster arrived suggesting a haul-out might be in order, especially in light of the fact that waterborne oil damages both bottom paint and, if ingested through a vessel’s sea strainers, onboard machinery as well. Other friends called, some wondering what they should do, others wondering what I was gonna do.
The answer to the latter question took a while to evolve. At first I contemplated making a run across the Gulf and escaping south on the Intracoastal Waterway, a plan I had to nix due to the rapid spread of the spill toward Florida’s west coast. Then I toyed with simply hauling Betty and leaving her on the hard until the spill cleared, a plan I had to scrap because of the dicey financial ramifications of perhaps having to pay for a marina slip and yard stowage at the same time. Finally, a workable scheme arose—hauling Betty to the safety of the Atlantic coast, or more specifically Jacksonville, on a truck.
I’ve already covered the ensuing vicissitudes in an At Sea column (“Wheeeeeeee!!!!!! How Betty Jane Became Florida’s Fastest Trawler”) in Power & Motoryacht in October 2010. Not mentioned then, however, was the claim filed against BP for the cost of the move, a figure that included two hotel stays (considering the long hours I worked to remove and then reinstall stuff so Betty could safely zip under I-10 overpasses, I needed boatyard-adjacent sleeping arrangements), yard fees, a truck rental, and an après-transit washdown. My claim packet also included receipts and a synopsis: BP’s oil spill made me move … BP should pay.
Time wore on. Last August, because I’d run out of time to bird-dog the bureaucracy related to even my small, comparatively uncomplicated claim, I hired a Fort Lauderdale law firm to help. What I soon discovered was that this outfit had a cheery but ruthless gate-keeper receptionist, a black-hole voice-mail system, and a name that was way too long to remember.
They were a standoffish bunch. As the months dragged on, I tried telephoning them about my case in nice ways, then importuning ways, and finally in grim, threatening ways, all with little luck. Toward the end, in terms of pure, cynical exasperation, I hit bottom, wondering whether I should hire a second attorney to sue the first, just to get a status report.
“I oughta fly down there and pay ’em a visit,” I threatened just before Christmas, a game plan that hardly seemed reasonable, given the paltry sum I was angling for, not to mention, the spirit of the season.
“Your case is small potatoes,” my wife observed.
“Huh,” I bridled, wholly convinced that greed and insincerity held sway in the world.
But get this! Only weeks ago, I received some papers from the law firm in the mail—Gulf Coast Claims Facility or GCCF (acting on behalf of BP) had approved my claim! And only days ago, a modest pile of open-handed, undeniably sincere BP moolah hit the ol’ bank account, thereby censuring, I’ve got to admit, my sanctimoniously cynical attitude.