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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Rather than looking port abeam at yet another Caribbean island as we sail steadily past their northern shores towards the Florida Keys, and beyond to Kemah, Texas, I am perched high on a hillside patio overlooking a beautiful harbor in St. Thomas. Six days prior, our great adventure changed course as our Captain under full power of the Lagoon 440’s two motors ran us straight through the bright yellow buoys clearly marking the Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument’s gem right into the reef. Minutes earlier we had left a mooring ball at Trunk Bay that we had tied to for an hour or so for a safety test the captain insisted we must all pass prior to setting sail for Texas that afternoon. With no line off the stern the captain set a timer for 20 minutes and told the owners, their 7 and 11 year old, and my wife and me to jump in, and leaving no one onboard, he jumped in. Really. Later as I was down below changing out of my swim trunks and shaking my head and wondering how badly things may have gotten if the current or swells had increased while we were all in the water, I was thrown forward with the first collision. I ran up top in a flash to my wife who I had left sitting next to the captain on the starboard side of the bridge. The owner and his 11 year old were at the bow yelling that they could see the bottom, his wife came running up from below and yelled “how can you do this, we are surrounded by buoys!?”, and I held on for what seemed like forever. It was slow motion, from the first collision, to the next, the glancing blows from side to side, shudders, grinding, bangs, one after another, until we came to a hard stop, for a second, and the swells rocked us and banged us. The captain didn’t check on anyone or anything, he just revved the motors to full throttle, reverse, nothing, forward, no movement, reverse, full, forward full again and again, and then he just left them rumbling at full throttle. I ran below and pulled up the floor panels in the port hull - no water, not here. I was called up top, and ordered to pull out the jib, and then with more rocking and revving, we bounced and crashed our way out of the reef. As we all asked to stop and inspect for damage, the captain pointed to open water, not shore or safety and said it sounded worse than it was and that we would check for damage later. I scurried to the starboard side, and the water was pouring in along with daylight into the hull, filling it more quickly than the bilge pumps could handle. The owners wife exclaimed that it smelled like oil in the owners cabin, and it did, like burning rubber, burning belts on a burning up overheated engine. She told her children to pack a bag each, I told my wife to prepare a bag, and I asked the captain yet again why he had not made a distress call. I told the owners wife that the captain was crazy, that we should not be heading to sea, that we need to head towards shore. She agreed, and we finally convinced him to stop the boat, albeit with the motors running and no anchor, and the captain told the owner to spray expanding foam into the hole through the gushing water - it was futile to the point of almost laughing at the ongoing idiocy.

Edit Added: Please see list of questions below:

So here we are, stopped in the water, a hole in the starboard hull/keel, water and daylight pouring in, expanding foam, a captain who refuses to pick up the vhf and make a distress call of any sort. The wife said to me that she didn't know we were leaving the mooring, that we were supposed to have a meeting, go over the charts, review our course, standing orders, watch schedule. Yup, that had been the plan, the last word before leaving Red Hook. Well, now we have headed towards shore and we have pulled up the floor panels on the starboard side, and we have water and daylight pouring in. Now they are yelling at me to throw a line over the starboard side – the owner has jumped in and is attempting to inspect the damage from below, but the water is deep and dark here, the motors are idling, I find a random line, drop it overboard and tie it off to the lifeline. The owner comes up for air and says its too deep to see the damage, he's out of breath, his wife exclaims that he is not a strong enough swimmer to be doing this. He comes aft, I ask if we are in neutral, he climbs aboard. I ask the captain again “shouldn't you make a pan pan call.

The foam is ineffective when sprayed into the hole below the water, but the owner notices that pieces of dried foam can be forced into the hole, and it works a bit. He stands over the hole with his foot, I suggest adding a towel, and using a hand bilge pump, his wife in the bilge with him, we are alternating buckets as I run them out and empty them over the stern, one after another, all the way back to red hook. I'm exhausted, but keep bailing. I ask the captain to make a call, at least call ahead and ask for an emergency bilge pump. He says he doesn't have his phone! Phone! Phone!? Use the damn VHF! I ask where his phone is, he tells me, and I retrieve it from his cabin and hand it to him, and continue bailing.

What about all that we are taught to do in such a situation, I mean, if we ignore all that we are taught and practiced in order to safely navigate around islands known to be surrounded by rocks and reefs and end up plowing into a well marked and well charted reef on a calm and sunny afternoon, even after it had earlier been pointed out?

I ask the following, not to uneducated guessing, opinion or speculation, but to maritime law or US Federal, State, or Territorial law, or common sense and what should be done by the book?


1. Should we have stopped and inspected the boat and reef for damage before rocking and banging out of the reef. There was no review of the charts or chart plotter after the collision. Oh, wait, the captain said the chart was off, showed 40 feet. The captain turned off the chart plotter on the bridge shortly after the collision. The one below at the nav. station was flashing a warning until someone turned it off later. The owner and captain had ordered and purchased all new paper charts of our entire intended course prior to leaving Texas. We hadn't used them or looked at them, nor did we chart any positions or bearings from Antigua to St. Thomas.
2. Should the captain have ordered the inspected the bilges before leaving the reef.
3. Should we have even left the reef, without assistance and would that have prevented further damage to the reef?
4. Once it is determined that there is a hole in the boat and we are taking on water, should the captain have given any order to the crew and passengers?
5. Once it is determined that there is a hole in the boat and we are taking on water, should the captain have made a pan pan call or any sort of call?
6. Before entering the Federal Sanctuary waters, should the captain have reviewed the charts and planned a course? Isn't he required to purchase a permit for entering the National Park waters, and mooring, even just for a brief period?
 

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Unfortunately, it is the owner who is going to have to pay for this captain's mistake. I believe the fines for hitting a reef in a national park are considerable.
I'd be really interested where you got this "captain". I'd also see that the USCG drug tested him ASAP!
Sadly, St. Thomas is infested with the rum sotted losers who would be unemployable anywhere else in America. All too often a personable individual shows up to fix or drive your boat and leaves it in much worse shape than when he arrived. It is the curse of the USVI.
I feel for you and the boat owner. I wish you all well and that one day you can do the trip you intended to do without the mishaps.
 

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That's pretty crazy, and I really don't want to criticize, but I have to ask one thing. When he was making everyone jump in did you notice the lack of a line and that all crew would be involved OFF the boat before or after it happened?

If you or anyone noticed the poor idea before it was executed but didn't say something that's how very bad things happen every day. When someone sees a developing situation but assumes it normal or ok and says nothing till it's too late. At work we call it the "IRS" or "internal responsibility system". Everyone is responsible for everyone's safety, regardless of age, gender, or rank. Sorry to hear your trip went poorly though, it's unfortunate there are people like him out there making a mess of things.
 

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I am not following.

Was this a delivery Captain for a boat bought in the Carribean?

What was the point of having every one jump in the water? Was it some kind of twisted Man Overboard drill?
 

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I hope the captain was insured to cover any damages incurred while the boat was under his command.

Was he the former pilot of the Fitzgerald or McCain? Then again Schettino if he is out on parole has passed the 5 year mark and can now command a ship again - Not him?.

This pure negligence really makes one take pause.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
The captain lives in Galveston and teaches sailing in Kemah, Texas. His NauticalEd page states: Level 0 Crew Rank Chief Instructor. Other credentials: Master Captains License STCW. Endorsements US Sailing instructor., Rescue Diver.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Yes, he pulled in the line before we all jumped in, and then threw it back out a while after the 20 minute alarm went off. I repeatedly said this is stupid, wreckless and crazy. I’m an old lifeguard, and I kept telling my wife to stay near the boat, I kept an eye on everyone, especially the youngest boy who was the only one with a life jacket on, but he was frightened, and everyone but my wife and I kept drifting away and swimming back towards the boat.
 

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Never heard of a Master Captains licence. I have heard of masters licenses, master mariner licenses and Captains licence, but I have never heard of a master captains license.

I went to Captains school and at no time did any one say anything about making your passengers get in the water and tread water. Thats the Captains job, its to make sure the passengers dont have to tread water.
 

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It sounds like he felt the need to test out your crew's ability to tread water, knowing you would likely need it.

It's quite a story.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
The owner has been taking lessons with the captain in Kemah, bought the boat in Antigua a few months ago through a broker/business partner of the captain. The owner is an acquaintance and he, the captain and I worked on the boat on the hard for one week before bringing it to St. Thomas to meet up with wives and children.

He made us tread water in a pool in Texas, and I told my wife then and this time that I thought he was doing it just to see the ladies in their bikinis. Yup, that’s kind of a sick MOB drill.
 

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The captain lives in Galveston and teaches sailing in Kemah, Texas. His NauticalEd page states: Level 0 Crew Rank Chief Instructor. Other credentials: Master Captains License STCW. Endorsements US Sailing instructor., Rescue Diver.
In the first place, a Master Captains License (I assume he means an MMC with a master's endorsement as the USCG does not issue any captain licences) is a certification that can be had by anyone who pays their money, takes the license prep course and passes a very basic, mostly multiple choice test. It signifies that the person holding it can do that, not to experience, or actual knowledge. The STCW is only an international convention certifying that the holder has taken the class, which includes such things as basic first aid, how to don a survival suit and climb into a liferaft from the water.
I'm not going to comment on the captain, as there are way too many questions to be answered before anyone could judge his qualifications to deliver a big cat from the VI to Texas, but I will put in my 2 cents worth for anyone seeking a good delivery captain.
All reputable yacht brokers have a stable of the very best and most qualified captains. They have guys who can operate a 35 foot go fast boat, or sailing monohulls and cats of any size or even megayachts, and get the job done with no damage to the vessel or anything else. They have captains that can teach a novice owner how to operate their new boat and all the systems, or guys qualified to do a transoceanic delivery.
The good captains have a pool of the very best crew they know, so with this captain or team, an owner has the best, taking care of his vessel.
 
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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
The Virgin Islands National Park Rangers had received calls from witnesses ashore and dispatched a vessel to intercept us, but the captain got us out of there before they arrived. We have just heard from them......
 

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SMFH

Just glad that you survived. Anyone on the bow could have been thrown overboard.
 
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RE the captain asking everyone to jump in the water he may have been thinking of lightening ship.

I have assisted in a few groundings over the years and cats are really difficult to get off compared to fin keel monohulls.

With cats get the crew off drop the dink in th water and run the anchor out into the dink with all the chain. Ideally someone should check to see if the props and rudders are clear before using the engines. [ I recently saw a charter cat that had run onto a reef 20 mins into their week and in their attempts to get off wrecked the props and rudders. no chance of getting his deposit back. ]
 

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WOW - I have taught sailing for the last 5 years for both ASA and US/Sailing. During that time I have NEVER ordered anyone into the water, and while I have run aground it has always been (semi-)intentional. When I run aground, I teach how to get refloated without damaging the vessel. I have only taken the free NauticEd classes (out of professional curiosity), but Grant at NauticEd keeps pestering me via email to enroll so that I can get my NauticEd certification. As a former education professional/corporate trainer, I feel that there are many things that online learning and simulation cannot do, and teaching sailing is one of them. I have done a few deliveries too, but I have nothing dramatic to report about them.

I have not sailed in the VI, so I've been looking at a chart of the area. If you left from Trunk Bay moorings and ran aground minutes later, you must have hit Johnson Reef which is marked by: Y C "JA", Y "JB" FL Y 6s, Y C "JC", Y "JD" FL Y 2.5s, Y C "JE", and G "1JR" FL G 4s. All of these ATONs are within a half of a mile of each other, so that's a good indication that there is something to look out for in that location.

Was there a chart of the area aboard? Had anyone looked at it?

Either way, this sounds like a case of gross negligence.

On the plus side, the NauticEd website ( at Sailing Schools in the USA) states that they have a NEW Lagoon 450F! So maybe they will trade vessels to make this situation go away. :)
 
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Unfortunately or fortunately the owner retains the right to fire a “captain” at his discretion at any point in time. The unfortunate part is the owner will be held liable for damages. Remember he hired the captain with no gun to his head so the captain is merely his agent. The fortunate part is he can sue the captain. The unfortunate part is the captain is likely judgment proof.
Due to insurance I once had to hire a captain. He was unskilled in running sailboats . I ran the boat and made the decisions.
 

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Now before we all get our knickers in a twist I would like to point out that SVEM joined SailNet a day ago, and he's posted here a total of 5 times, all in this thread. (BTW - @SVEM Welcome to SailNet!)

Can we please get some more information on this incident from another source?
 
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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
My wife and I fly back to Houston today. We sail out of Kemah and I am ASA certified 101-105, my wife through 104. Of course, you may inquire with the U.S. Park Rangers of the Virgin Islands National Park and Coral Reef Monument in St. John’s,usvi, or ask some of the captains in red hook...it has been chatter for a week.
We are not nearly as devastated as the reef, but we are devastated and heartbroken by this whole experience. I am an Eagle Scout, I have traveled over 35 countries, and this is among the worst experiences of my life. I came to this forum for feedback, for help, for information. We should be on that vessel with a competent captain somewhere north of Cuba by now, but we are effectively shipwrecked. I want to sail more than ever now.
I have not finished recalling the whole of the event, and will continue once we have settled back into Houston.
My apologies for not naming the vessel captain or owner, nor other sources or contacts, but this is all true and I expect that all those details will come out.
 
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