29 Months After Hurricane, Grounded Yacht Inches Seaward (Video)
With 12 Wheels and a Winch, Stubborn Aussies Coax 89-Footer to Water
Stubborn is the word for Geoff Bradley and Jenny Kelly.
As Hurricane Dorian bore down on the Bahamas in August 2019, the Australian couple had planned to flee southward out of Dorian’s path, but, hit by a variety of mechanical problems, they instead anchored their 89-foot Adventurer on the back side of Great Abaco Island to ride it out. Dorian struck about 23 nautical miles north of their position with Category 5 force, flooding low-lying areas, which in the Bahamas means practically everywhere.
When the storm passed, the Anna Marie had been deposited about 300 feet from the water. Remarkably, the old motoryacht had sustained little damage, which Bradley credited to good bones, not the least of which is her half-inch-thick aluminum hull. Her twin props had been wrecked, but there were spares aboard, and otherwise the running gear was unharmed.
Determined to save their little ship, the couple looked for an engineering solution that could move a 44-ton vessel across scrubland inaccessible except by dinghy. That is, inaccessible to heavy equipment. Worth noting: This was not one of those smooth, sugar-sand tropical beaches; the terrain was uneven and gravelly for the length of a football field. Worth repeating: 44 tons.
The nearest civilization is Sandy Point, the island’s southernmost settlement. The town is known for bonefishing lodges and supplies the workforce for Disney’s nearby private cruise ship island.
The couple has kept a low profile, living off stores and monthly grocery deliveries, while they formulated a rescue plan and gathered the gear they would need to make it work—a collection that included wheels, a winch, jacks, rollers, cable, steel stock and a welder to put parts of it together.
Back in Australia, Bradley had been a builder and a carpenter. Now he needed to learn how to weld. “He taught himself on YouTube using a chopstick as his pretend welding rod on the table,” Jenney says. “That’s how he learned. Necessity—as soon as you’re in a situation with necessity, you’ll learn.”
Jenney, a former hospital administrator, dedicated her efforts toward R&D and logistics. For example, a 4x4 winch with a 30,000-pound capacity had to be sourced from Australia.
By mid-2020, the wheel assemblies had been welded and attached to the hull—Bradley calls them dollies, like those things you use to move a fridge. Once the other prep-work had been completed, they were ready to winch themselves stern-first toward the water. Nearly a year had passed since Dorian before they were ready to roll.
Progress has come in spurts with periods of downtime to deal with setbacks and the need to make regular returns to the U.S. to satisfy Bahamian visa requirements. And all this, lest we forget, happening during the Abacos’ excrutiating disaster recovery and then Covid. “Once we started moving we went from 300 foot to 75 foot pretty quickly, but then we went into this bolt hole, which held us up for about eight months,” Bradley says. Progress since the pull began averaged a little more than 13 feet a month.
In a recent email to a fellow cruiser, Bradley wrote:
The starboard rear dolly went down 1.5 feet into soft muddy limestone. This caused a few problems with cracked dollies. By the time we repaired them we had spring tides coming around the boat two times a day for four months and couldn't jack ourselves out. Just last month we got her up high enough and put ply under. Alas, our wire ropes gave way.
We did move three feet the other day after digging under the rear bogged wheel and putting two truck wheels down (after filling the hole) full of rock with ply over the top, like a big snowshoe. The three-foot move gave us the enthusiasm to spend big on the jacks that will give us the height required to bridge this area. Our new rigging is all Dyneema, and we have four very strong anchor points at the low tide mark. It was tested to capacity in the last pull and held up well.
Bradley regretted having relied on cheap bottlejacks. “Our design was good. But our jacking system has been our biggest problem all the way, without having spent stupid money on jacks,” Bradley says.
After four of eight bottlejacks broke, he resigned himself to buying two 30-ton air-lift jacks for about $1,000 each. He and Jenney had come to the U.S. to collect them (and satisfy Bahamas visa requirements) when they were interviewed for this story. “Now we are over here putting our hands in our pockets and buying these air jacks, and we hope these are going to be the answer for the last 75 feet,” Bradley says.
The next phase of the rescue will see the Anna Marie at a place along her path that Bradley calls “the hill,” and which he likens to the top of a boat ramp. The ramp drops four feet over the length of 80 feet. The idea is to crank the vessel far enough into the bay until the props are under water sufficiently to power backwards and deeper. Anna Marie’s four-foot draft means she need not travel far to accomplish this. Twin Detroit 671 diesels will provide the horsepower.
For the final pull, failing steel cable will be replaced by Dyneema, a synthetic rope that pound-for-pound is 15 times stronger than steel. Dyneema has become popular for upgrading rigging and lifelines on sailboats.
The video at the bottom of this story describes the cabling system that has moved Anna Marie thus far. Bradley has provided sketches describing the block and tackle plan for both the existing system and a new system that he hopes to use for the final pull. “It’s a great idea that one of our mates that’s a rock climber designed. The same rock climber designed the pulling system we have now,” Bradley says.
(Read more about the winching systems with diagrams: In the Wake of Archimedes.)
Thus far the winch has been attached to swim platform. Bradley plans to move it to the first raised level of superstructure overlooking the foredeck. This will reverse the initial direction of the winch pull. Here’s how he describes the change:
We’re going from a “heaving-to” system to a “heaving against” system to the anchor point. The cable goes through the hawse pipe to the existing (anchored) pullies at the high tide line, to the midship cleats a third of the way back from the bow. Therefore, that should mean that we can put half of the boat past the low-tide mark. And then when the tide comes up, our aim is to put the props back on and go astern. The front rolls on the land, and the props are powerful enough to bring the boat further into the water.
If all goes well, Anna Marie will be afloat by early June, Bradley says.
Hurricane Dorian has the record for the most intense tropical cyclone to strike the Bahamas; It is regarded as the worst natural disaster in the country's history. Hundreds of Bahamians and undocumented residents died. Damage was estimated at $3.4 billion.
The following photos were pulled from a video by YouTuber Keath Nupuf, who calls his channel Globalhopper’s Travels. View the video at the end of the gallery below.
Next: Loose Cannon looks at the Anne Marie backstory, including the circumstances that got her where she is today, what it was like for the crew through 36-hours of Category 4 conditions at anchor, and how a nearly three-year rescue campaign has affected the lives of Geoff and Jenny. You may well agree: This story deserves to be a book or movie.
Why not use marine roller air bags. Still going to have move the boat through the shallow waters to actually float free. Google ship “launching airbags”