MARCO ISLAND — Dubbed the “Flying Fifty,” the derelict, abandoned sailboat took its final flight, Wednesday.
Flying Fifty had served as a waterway marker since 2007 for those seeking to find Marco Island’s Snook Inn. It took Sea Tow contractors, assisted by Cypress Construction, about three days to complete the excavation. They began by pumping water from the approximate 70-foot boat, then brought it back upright using large flotation devices, towed the boat to the northern foot of the Judge S.S. Jolley Bridge and hoisted it from water to land.
Spectators began gathering as the large masts were cut down and removed Tuesday. Crowds grew to about 30 people at a time, sometimes more, as spectators gathered and dispersed throughout the project.
A 150-ton capacity crane worked for hours on getting the boat out of the water beginning early Wednesday. By mid-afternoon, it was discovered the 150-pound crane wasn’t going to be enough to do the job.
“Mud and damp wood under the fiberglass added to the weight,” said Sea Tow owner Capt. Jack Moran.
The angle of the crane to the boat also decreased the crane’s weight capacity, he said.
So another crane, this one with a 100-ton capacity, came down from North Naples to assist.
Moran threw on his dive gear, rearranged the flotation devices and cables. By mid-afternoon both cranes were working to hoist the boat slowly from the canal, which is slightly northwest of the Jolley Bridge.
The Flying Fifty was hovering just above the earth at about 6 p.m. and moments later came to a crash-landing as camera lenses shuttered and the crowd oohed and aahed, followed by an occasional “yuck.”
Many said they were sad to see it go.
T-shirts for sale at the Snook Inn with the words “What’s with the boat that’s not afloat?” paid homage to what had become a water monument in the Big Marco River since November 2007. The t-shirts are now half-priced.
Jean Dilks, of Isles of Capri, was among the spectators who came and went from the work site throughout the excavation process.
“I’m actually going to miss it. We take our friends out to see it. Every time they come, they ask if it’s still there. It was like a tourist attraction,” Dilks said as she stood knee-deep in the canal along SR-951 to soak in her last sighting of the boat.
Despite the abandoned boat’s apparent appeal among Islanders and visitors, it had a dark side.
“I thought about asking if I could salvage it. It looked good from afar, but far from good,” said John Gorman of Naples as he looked at the dangling boat’s barnacled side.
In addition to the aesthetic problems of derelict boats, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation officials shared the numerous risks abandoned boats pose to the environment and human safety.
Manatees getting trapped inside, lead, motor oils, grease, fuel, battery acid, hydraulic fluid and acidic boat cleaners are among the potential environmental concerns, said FWC Lt. Mitts Mravic.
Abandoned or derelict boats may also become navigational hazards at night or as they sink out of view. It’s essentially littering the waterways on a large scale, Mravic said.
Ted Grainger, visiting Marco Island from Kalamazoo, Michigan, watched the spectacle of removing the Flying Fifty for several hours each day this week through Thursday’s demolition.
He said the contractors were taking great strides to avoid the boat breaking apart and littering the waterways.
Aaron Cooper, 10, and Isabelle Tapia, 3, came to watch the work of their grandfather and uncle, “Big John and Little John” Huegel, all of Isles of Capri. The father and son team are owner-operators of Cypress Construction, which brought in the cranes and completed the land-side of the boat’s removal.
“Big John” said it was a nerve-wracking experience plucking the boat from the water.
They finished the largest of the boat-removal jobs in Collier County this year and posed for a photograph before removing the cranes’ straps from the boat, Wednesday.
Aaron said he thought the barnacles, several inches thick, were “cool.”
“It’s great to finally get rid of it. It was pretty dangerous,” said family member Maureen Huegel.
Thursday, the boat was being demolished where it made landfall the day before. It will be taken to the dump.
The Flying Fifty is one of 12 boats in the county being removed at a cost of $100,000, including an $80,000 grant from FWC, matched by $20,000 from Collier County Coastal Zone Management. The Flying Fifty’s removal cost $40,000.
The next large project is removal of the 55-foot “Wizard of I” from Goodland Bay. Boat owner Gerry Davidson once touted signs “free yacht,” but didn’t get any takers. The boat hasn’t made a voyage in about four or five years.
FWC and local law enforcement agencies are working to track down the derelict, abandoned boat owners and taking them to court to recoup the costs of removing their troubled vessels.