Nearly a week underwater “pulverized” a 17-foot flats skiff that sank Oct. 1 on a protected Key Largo reef, says the lead salvager.
“Wave action kind of pulverized the boat,” said Capt. Steve Powers of Sea Tow Key Largo. “We weren’t sure what we would find. It wasn’t in the same spot where it went down.”
A battered hull was about all that was left when Sea Tow removed the 1976 Hewes boat with a 115-horsepower outboard from Molasses Reef, a marine preserve off Key Largo in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Two men were aboard the skiff when it sank around 4 a.m. when wind-tossed seas swamped the shallow-draft boat over the stern after the boat propeller got tangled in a mooring-buoy line.
The men were able to grab life jackets and hang onto Molasses mooring buoy No. 16 before swimming several dozen yards to the Molasses Reef light tower. They were rescued after sunrise Sunday by a commercial dive boat.
Rough sea conditions last week stalled recovery efforts until Saturday. “That was the soonest weather opportunity. It was blowing hard for days,” Powers said Monday. “By Saturday it was better and we loaded up the gear and headed out.”
The Hewes boat “wasn’t in the same spot where it sank,” Powers said. “It took us about 30 minutes to find it by towing a diver hanging onto a water-ski rope.”
The skiff had drifted closer to Molasses buoy No. 6, turned upside down and lodged beneath a reef ledge in about 18 feet of water. Hurricane Irma three weeks prior apparently shifted a lot of sand at the reef, creating the overhang.
“We attached the lift bags on the boat and slowly pulled it away from the reef structure before lifting it to the surface,” Powers said. It was towed into the marina at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and removed from the water.
After their rescue, the boaters told a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer that they were night fishing but were unaware that they were in a protected no-take zone.
The owner originally was hopeful the boat could be recovered and repaired, Powers said. “But after a boat has been down for two days or more, there’s not much you can do.”
Divers feared the sunken boat may have damaged living corals at one of the best-known dive spots in the Florida Keys.
Under federal regulations covering national marine sanctuaries, a civil case seeking fines or restoration costs could be filed against boat operators who damage protected resources. No information on a planned reef assessment was available Tuesday.
Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206