The Online Magazine For Amateur Boat Builders

A Free Boat
by David "Shorty" Routh

I was inbetween big boats, and was looking for a free bare hull that I could bring back from the dead. I knew that I either wanted an ODay 19 or a Venture 21. They are both in the size range of the largest I want to tow with my minivan, and are big enough to sleep my whole family. Of the two, the Venture is faster because it is 300 lbs lighter, and the hull is narrower. But I was more interested in the ODay because it had an 8' cockpit, and an extra foot of beam with a flatter bottom, so would have more initial stability. Ahhh.... the endless decisions on what compromises are more important to you when you get the next boat. I searched around and found an ODay, so brought that one home.

Soon after I got an email from a friend that had seen a posting on CraigsList about a free 21' boat near Houston, Texas. It said something like "free 21' boat, unknown type, no sails or mast, come get it for free". I emailed the link around and my friend Bill Tosh was very interested in it, so I contacted the "seller" to see more details about getting it.

Josh (the person who was giving it away) emailed me back and said that Bill and I were welcomed to it, but it had submerged a little bit more, so see the attached photo (shown here). Said he honestly didn't know if it was recoverable, but we were welcome to come try, and there was no obligation to take it if we decided it wasn't worth it.

Wow, a sunken boat !! Little did he know, this made it even more attractive for me to help recover!! I have dragged home a lot of boats, but never had the opportunity to raise a sunken boat like this.

History from Josh

Talking with him further, I learned a little bit of the history. When Josh came to look at buying his house, he looked in the canal and tied up to the bulkhead was a 21' sailboat. He asked about it, and the seller (in a joking tone), said "buy the house, and the sailboat comes with it". Then they went to look at other parts of the house. When buying the house, Josh asked his realtor if the guy was serious, the realtor assured him that he was not, and he would not be getting the boat.

click to enlargeMoving day came, Josh moved in and the boat was floating around the canal, tied up to a tree around the corner in an undeveloped area. Asking around, Josh found out that it had previously been owned by the couple that lived across the canal (the house shown in this photo). They got divorced, the husband left the boat for the wife to contend with. She was not interested in it, so she offered it around for free, and the previous owner of Josh's house accepted it. Then after a while, he lost interest and in the middle of the night took it back across the canal and tied it up to the lady's dock again. She was pissed ! She said that he accepted it, and she didn't want it back! So she set it free and it floated around the canal for a while, and then it was tied to the tree in the undeveloped area.

Josh was cleared by all the neighbors to adopt this boat, and he was elaited. He spent a month cleaning up the boat, power washing it, cleaning out the inside etc. Didn't have a motor or sail rig, so he paddle it around a couple times in the canal with a paddle. Josh was ready to fix her up the right way, and started to call around to try and figure a way to register the boat. Without the title, or previous owner, it is impossible to get it registered in Texas. He tried anyway, calling the coast guard, Texas parks and wildlife, the local sheriff, anyone that had anything to do with boats he tried and failed miserably. Worse yet, they told him since he tied it up to his bulkhead, it was now his responsibility and he would be liable if it ever broke free and damaged another boat, or became a hazzard to navigation. If that didn't destroy his dream enough, it suddenly started to take on water. Sinking slowly (just a little lower every day), it was a depressing situation.

It's berth was in the canal, and if it sunk, it would be a hazzard, so Josh went to move it back to the undeveloped area around the side. When moving, the knot holding it to the cleat was so tight, he had to cut it, and just as he did a gust of wind blew on the hull and the rope slipped from his hand. The boat was heading out into the canal and towards the million dollar yachts just a few yards away!! Luckily a fisherman was coming down the ways and caught the boat, returning it to Josh.

The local housing developers saw what was going on, and said that if it was still there when they developed that property, they would have to haul it away with a backhoe, definitely destroying it in the process and possibly sticking him with the bill. So Josh was out of options and posted it up on Craigslist, "Free 21' sailboat".

Previous Title Owner, Currently On File

When I found out about the boat, and Bill Tosh said he wanted it, the first thing I did was get the TX numbers from Josh and run them at Texas Parks. They gave me the previous title owner's name, and lucky for me it was a unique one, there were only 2 people with that same last name in all of Houston. So I called them both, one turned out to be the last owner, his name is Mark.

Talking with Mark, I found out a little more history. He had purchased the boat from a doctor for $2100 back in 1991, and sailed it often. It was a great boat for him, and was enjoyed many weekends. But work took over Mark's life, and so the boat sat in Mark's driveway for a number of years, it's only purpose at that point was a place for a few of his cats to sleep. Mark and his wife like pizza, and they would order pizza once a week. For the previous 3 years, they had the same driver every week, and then one day the pizza driver asked about the boat. Mark talked to him a bit, knew he was dirt poor but a very nice guy, so he sold the boat to him for $100. The pizza driver then sailed her every chance he could get, right up till his work visa expired and he was being forced to leave back to Armenia. He called up Mark and offered to give the boat back, but Mark and his wife were used to the boat being gone, and pleased with the idea it went to the friendly pizza driver, so he said to just sell it to someone and keep the money.

I explained what I knew from Josh, and described it's current status of being sunken. Having never raised a sunken boat, I described our plan of renting a gasoline driven pump, and pumping out the water. Mark used to work in the oil industry and said it would be no problem at all, that little boat would just pop right back up to the surface. He had previously raised barges off the bottom, they were a little bit more work. Mark also agreed to order a new title and send us a signed one, so that Bill would be able to register the boat in his name, and get her back on the water.

Plan A

I don't know anyone who has recovered a sunken boat before, the only reference I have is once I saw it done on the discovery channel. They used divers to locate the holes in the boat, patch them up, air bags to raise the boat to the surface, then pump the water out. The way the boat sat, at high tide the water was over the coaming and some friends were speculating that the water would just rush in at the same rate the pump would lift it out. Also there was a hatch on the bow deck, and we know for a fact that hatch will leak like a sieve around the edges. Worst case scenario, we get down there and try to pump it out, if it doesn't work out, we can just leave it there and all we have lost is our time and the cost of the pump rental.

click to enlargeI went to Champion Equipment Rentals and picked up a gas powered pump. They were out of the 2" pumps, but had a 3" one that they would rent me for the same price. The 2" was rated at 138 gallons per minute, and I thought the guy said the 3" would do around 350 gallons per minute.

click to enlargeWe got lucky, and the intake hose was the prefect length to go from the shore to inside the cabin, and we could run it without a discharge hose letting the water just run down the bank and back into the canal.

Incase the hose wouldn't reach, or incase we had to continually run the pump while we towed it to the boat ramp, I built a small plywood kayak to carry the pump. I didn't use the kayak, but wanted to build one anyway, and it only took $35 worth of materials and 2.5 hours to make.

Josh was able to borrow his neighbors canoe, it is floating here above the venture.
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click to enlarge Bill's brother in law Jerry came to help, but was mostly interested in getting to see Bill fall in. :)
With the pump in the lowest part of the hull, Bill stood on the forward hatch to keep it closed and hopefully minimize the water flow thru it.
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click to enlarge Lots of water coming out of that pump....
I no time flat, the boat started coming up. I looked at my watch, and only 4 minutes had lapsed, but the boat was starting to come off the bottom.
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click to enlarge The hatch is clear !!
It keeps on coming up.
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click to enlarge The water was coming in thru the keel winch cable hole, so Bill stuffs a rag in there to stop the water, and then hand bails the cockpit.
Venturing inside, Bill discoveres a new pet, or possibly lunch. When I started cleaning my ODay, I also gained a new pet.
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Tow Down the Canal

click to enlargeWith the borrowed canoe, and my 5hp outboard, we towed the venture down the canal and out towards the nearest public boat ramp. I would have taken pics in the canal, but the venture didn't really have any steerage (Bill was using a paddle), and it was tight between some very expensive boats. One slip and we could have done some serious damage.

This pic shows us moving out from the canal into the channel between Clear Lake and Galveston Bay.

Josh is holding the bow line as we tow. We dropped off the boat at the launch ramp, and then motored back to get the cars and the trailer.
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click to enlarge Could write a few captions for this picture:

"Tada, that piece of junk is gone!"

"Hey, who stole my boat?"

"Now are you ready to start on that sunken barge?"

You can see the sunken barge off to the side, it had been sunk there for a longer time, we speculated a bit on how it would be a nice floating dock. But not today... We will leave that for someone else.

Onto the Trailer

I wasn't able to find out about the bunk height profile before we went down, so I took a guess and the first time we pulled her up, I was way off. Backed her down in the water, adjust bunks and try again.
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click to enlarge Next pull, the wheels started to spin so Jerry added a little weight to the rear.
It was sitting better, but the the tongue weight was completely neutral, so we dropped her in the water one more time and adjusted the axle to bow eye distance.
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click to enlarge That was about as good as we were going to get with this trailer and the bunk supports that we had.
Bill's first stop on the road was the car wash. If you get on the green stuff immediately, it will come off a lot easier than if you wait till it dries.
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click to enlarge Might sound strange, but that was a lot of fun.