Decision to sail in storm in question | The Chronicle Herald
Decision to sail in storm in questionFebruary 14, 2013 - 2:30pm By BEVERLEY WARE South Shore Bureau UPDATED 9:15 p.m. Thursday
PORTSMOUTH, Va. — The manager of the Maine shipyard that worked on the Bounty just weeks before it sank last October said he never would have set sail in it with a hurricane on the way.
“I wouldn’t intentionally take a vessel into a storm if I could avoid it,” Joe Jackomovicz, who is now retired, said in an interview Thursday afternoon.
“It’s one thing if you’re out at sea and get caught. It’s another thing when you’re in a perfectly safe harbour. I couldn’t imagine that.
“If that boat had sailed in reasonable seas, if I could use that word, the boat would be in St. Petersburg (Fla.) now.”
Jackomovicz, who was manager of the Boothbay Harbor Shipyard, testified Thursday at the U.S. Coast Guard hearing into the sinking of the tall ship off Cape Hatteras, N.C., last Oct. 29.
He said the Bounty underwent about $3 million worth of work at the Maine shipyard since 2001, and though it was in good shape when it left Boothbay after a month-long refit last fall, it was still, in essence, a 50-year-old boat.
“If you still have a lot of the original structure in there, you still have an old boat.”
For example, the keel was hogging, or sagging, about 20 centimetres but he said that did not pose a safety risk.
Jackomovicz told the hearing he first worked on the ship in 2001 and was “flabbergasted” then by how much water the vessel was taking on.
“That boat was leaking water like a sieve,” he said in the separate interview.
When the ship’s new owner, Robert Hansen of New York, saw it, “his mouth just dropped,” Jackomovicz said.
Jackomovicz testified at the hearing that Capt. Robin Walbridge had told him the Bounty was taking on 114,000 litres of water an hour.
“I thought he must be nuts or something,” but Jackomovicz said it proved to be the case.
When the shipyard hauled the Bounty out of the harbour, “the amount of water coming out of the boat was unbelievable. The bottom was totally wormy” from spending a couple of winters in Florida.
But he said Hansen agreed to spend the money to do the work that needed to be done, and the shipyard replaced all of the planking below the waterline with white oak. Jackomovicz said the framing was in good shape, so at least 90 per cent of it was left untouched.
The next refit began in May 2006 and lasted about a year. The yard added 25 to 30 tonnes of lead in the keel for ballast and replaced the hull planking above the waterline with Douglas fir.
Jackomovicz said he presented Hansen with two options for different grades of fir and the owner selected the wood that was $30,000 cheaper.
“There were no defects in the wood we used,” Jackomovicz said.
When the Bounty came in again for work last September, Jackomovicz said he was shocked by the state of the wood above the waterline they had replaced just five years earlier.
He said one of his employees told him: “We found something that surprised the dickens out of us. That wood’s decaying.”
Walbridge was also surprised, he said.
“He was concerned about the decay, as I was. That’s something you never expected.”
While the shipyard’s project manager has told the hearing he was so worried about the rotting wood that he warned Walbridge to avoid bad weather, Jackomovicz said the wood wasn’t that bad and it was OK to leave further work on it until the next scheduled work period in a year.
“I’m basing my judgment on 40 years’ experience, he’s basing his judgment on probably five or six years’ experience,” Jackomovicz said of the project manager.
Jackomovicz said in the interview with The Chronicle Herald that the “decay up there (above the waterline) had no relation to the water coming in the boat.”
He said it was getting into the Bounty from below, and he suspects it was through the seams.
He told the hearing that the Bounty has “a lot of structural strength. ... The vessel was built so massive that it could take quite a bit of decay, degradation of the structure,” before it posed a problem.
Using the more expensive wood for planking wouldn’t have made a difference, he said.
Jackomovicz said he spoke with Walbridge about two days before the Bounty left the shipyard last October and asked him how he thought the vessel was doing.
“He said great, it’s tight, the vessel’s tight,” Jackomovicz said, but he took that with “a grain of salt.”
“In my mind it was probably still leaking, but in (Walbridge’s) experience with how the vessel was leaking in the past, a little bit of leaking in the boat was nothing to him.”
Jackomovicz said when he looked at photographs of the sinking Bounty, he was shocked it was still in one piece, which speaks to its structural integrity.
“I thought, my God, that boat’s still floating and intact. That was surprising to me,” he said in the interview.
“That tells me the fasteners were holding the boat together.”
He conceded, though, that the fasteners in the bottom of the ship could have given way, which could account for why there was so much water in the hull.
Jackomovicz said the galvanized fasteners were 50 years old and at that age can develop a halo of rust around the core, weakening them.
The hearing continues Friday.