By Connie Leinbach
Tuesday morning’s efforts to refloat the “Vivens Aqua,” which has been grounded on South Point here for the last week, were again unsuccessful and the thought now is to bring in the heavy equipment.
At high tide this morning at 7:21, a boat with TowBoatUS began pulling the 55-foot, 55,000-pound yacht.
From the beach, it appeared that the “Vivens” was not budging, but Lee Sykes, owner of the company, said that although the boat did move forward 20 feet, she did not come off the beach.
“(The boat moving 20 feet is) a lot when you’re talking about moving 50,000 pounds that’s parked that high on a beach,” he said. “And then every time you move it, the beach changes.”
Then, after several minutes of pulling, the port cleat holding the bridle, which attaches the tow line to the boat, snapped, said the boat’s owner, Scott Pumphrey.
Sykes said the boat doing the towing is adequate for the task.
“We have all the power we need sitting in the boats,” he said. “All a bigger boat is going to do is further pull that boat apart.”
He said they are mobilizing some additional equipment there tonight and are going to try again and either tonight or in the morning, which is supposed to be another higher high tide.
Once the boat is freed, it will be towed to a boat yard in Morehead City.
Sykes said the plan from the start has been to do as little damage to the beach as possible.
“We don’t ever like to dig on a beach if we don’t have to,” he said. “We were just trying to make the least invasive attempt on the highest tide to try to remove the boat. Now we’re gonna get aggressive about trying to clear some sand out from underneath that boat.”
That means bringing in rollers to place under the boat and an excavator.
However, according to Pumphrey, his insurance company, Markel Insurance, has called on local Darren Burrus, owner of Cape Dredging, to bring in his excavating equipment.
Sykes noted that Markel hasn’t executed a contract with his company, but Pumphrey confirmed that they will get paid for whatever work they’ve done.
“The insurance guy called me the other day and they know I have coverage and they’re taking care of it,” Pumphrey said.
Dave Hallac, superintendent of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore of which Ocracoke is a part, said he issued a permit for TowBoatUS to do the work and that some digging would be involved.
He said the permit for the work these last few days runs out on Wednesday.
“We’ll see what the insurance company and TowBoatUS proposes and if it’s something that we think is acceptable, we’ll certainly issue a permit for that,” Hallac said. “Between the rough weather that came in and once a boat like this is high and dry, it can be very challenging.”
He said the Park Service is working directly with Pumphrey and the Coast Guard regarding the best way to resolve this.
“It’s a rapidly changing situation with the weather and it sounds like there’s a lot of other conversations going on with the insurance company,” he said.
A scientist as well as the park superintendent, Hallac is interested in water level and tides.
“Basically, we’re at a time period where the high tides are some of the highest of the year and certainly the highest of the month so that I think is a helpful thing when it comes to trying to refloat the vessel, but it can also push the vessel higher on the beach,” he said. “So you got to harness that high water level really, really quickly.”
Pumphrey and his wife, Karen, of Salisbury, Maryland, had been sailing their newly acquired boat from Palm Coast, Florida, back home for about a week via the Intracoastal Waterway. Last week, on Monday, Jan. 24, the weather was nice and Pumphrey decided to leave the Intracoastal at Morehead City and travel via the ocean “to make up some miles.”
But they got into trouble that night at dark when Pumphrey said the steering went out while navigating the Ocracoke Inlet, a notoriously treacherous waterway through which he had never been, and they grounded on the beach.