'He's a lucky man': Boat explodes at Roche Harbor marina, skipper suffers minor injuries

Undersheriff Jon Zerby took these photographs of the boat that exploded at Roche Harbor Wednesday.
Undersheriff Jon Zerby took these photographs of the boat that exploded at Roche Harbor Wednesday. 'A good reason to ventilate for a good five minutes after fueling before starting your boat,' Zerby wrote. 'Notice the hull and superstructure are separated.'
— image credit: San Juan County Sheriff's Department

To hear local authorities tell it, John Weida is lucky to be alive.

The 64-year-old Marysville man escaped with minor injuries when an explosion blew out the cabin windows and cracked the hull of his 25-foot Bayliner during an apparent fueling mishap early Wednesday at the Roche Harbor Marina.

Moored alongside the fuel dock, Weida had just finished fueling the Bayliner when, as he switched on the ignition, the boat was pummeled by a powerful blast that split open its stern, shattered the windows in the forward cabin and left deep cracks running up and down its fiberglass hull. The blast could be heard throughout the resort and surrounding areas, according to Brian Gettman, a marina employee.

"It was a loud explosion and there's definitely structural damage to the boat," he said. "We're very lucky the boat contained most of the concussion."

Weida, who suffered superficial cuts to the face, is lucky to have escaped without serious injury, according to Brad Creesy, assistant chief of San Juan Island Fire Department.

"Big time," Creesy said. "Absolutely, he's a lucky man. Basically it blew up. The cabin went up and the sides went out."

A small fire was quickly contained and the crippled boat was hauled out of the water shortly after the blast, he said.

Perhaps even luckier is that Weida's traveling companions, his wife and a female friend, had disembarked the boat and were wandering around the resort while the Bayliner was being refueled. The two women could have easily been near the explosion's epicenter had they remained onboard.

Creesy said a combination of fuel vapors and faulty ventilation onboard the boat appeared to be to blame for what could have been a deadly disaster. He said the vapors apparently bypassed the boat's bilge pumps and wafted into the area of the engine compartment, and were then ignited when Weida turned on the ignition.

Creesy said it's unclear whether the Bayliner is a total loss, but it appears in need of extensive repair to be seaworthy once more.

"Given the shape it's in, it won't be out cruising around anytime soon," he said.

According to Undersheriff Jon Zerby, it's rare for fuel vapors to ignite or to cause the type of explosion that ripped apart Weida's boat. However, he noted, it's a basic element of any boater-safety course.

"It one of those things that rarely happens but that they warn you about all the time," Zerby said. "The guy is very, very lucky. He could have blown up not only the boat, but himself and set the whole dock on fire too."

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