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Boat owner says sinking caused by driftwood wedged between hull and dock; surveyor's inspection expected soon

Top photo: Eldorado owner Richard Olin and the Ecology Department
Top photo: Eldorado owner Richard Olin and the Ecology Department's Carl Anderson confer at the site of the boat's raising. Second photo: The Eldorado is raised using a crane and inflatable bags. Third photo: Salvage crew begin pumping water from the boat. Bottom photo: Water is removed from the Eldorado so it can be towed to Cap Sante Marina for repairs.
— image credit: Scott Rasmussen

Richard Olin has a different theory on why his boat, the Eldorado, sank March 2 at the Friday Harbor Marina breakwater dock: A piece of driftwood wedged between his boat and the dock punctured his hull.

Les Soland of A-1 Marine/Vessel Assist, which raised the boat and towed it to Cap Sante Marine in Anacortes, said earlier that the bulge pump and the packing gland on the starboard shaft had failed.

Dan May, Cap Sante Marine service manager, said Tuesday a surveyor will determine the cause of the vessel's sinking. He expects the surveyor will visit the boat within a week.

In an e-mail Monday, Olin — a retired yacht broker — outlined what he believes caused his boat to sink. (SanJuanJournal.com has edited the e-mail for spelling).

"Our inspection of the boat (shows it) did not sink due to the starboard shaft leaking that was indicated by Les," Olin wrote.

"Tami, the dock master at the port, called the ferry dispatcher and asked them to slow down coming to the harbor because they would rock the breakwater dock real bad ... The Eldorado was on the inside of the breakwater. Because of the ferry making the boat rock more than normal, after inspection of the hull, when the driftwood was wedged between the boat and the dock and the ferry made the big wave, the driftwood punched the hole in the side of the Eldorado and that made sense why the boat went down so fast.

"Removing the plywood for inspection that the divers had nailed to the port side at the water line showed that driftwood and logs had wedged between the dock and the side of the hull at the water line. It shows that it pushed two planks inward in two different places. That's in our inspection why the boat sank as fast as it did.

"Shafts can have a steady stream of water coming in and the bilge pumps will take care of the incoming water. The shafts have a packing around them. When packing is replaced from time to time, the nut that holds the packing can be completely loose and slide forward to replace the packing and at that time, water will enter the boat at a rate not any more than 1 to 3 gallons per hour and the bilge pumps will do their job."

Olin wrote that the morning before the incident, at 8 a.m., there were a lot of logs that had wedged between the port side of the boat and the dock. "I took my boat hook and pushed the logs and debris as I did every morning and some times at 2 or 3 a.m. when the logs would bang on the side of the boat," Olin wrote. "We all know during the high tides that driftwood will show up in marinas. If all the marinas would remove the logs from the water instead of towing the logs out away from the marinas. That doesn't do any good because the logs just cone back when the tide changes and then they have to tow them out again. That doesn't make any sense to me."

Soland responded, "After we had raised the boat and patched that hole, the only water that we saw was coming through the packing. If in fact his pumps were working, they should have kept up. That is why we assumed that the pumps had failed. When the divers patched the hole in the side they had indicated that it would have been at the bottom edge of the float, so the assumption was that the damage there had been done when the boat sank and not having been the cause."

Harbormaster Tami Hayes said it would be hard for a log to become wedged between a boat and a dock because the boat and dock move independently of each other. "Generally, the log comes back out," she said. "There was no log there when the boat was going down. I can't prove that, because I wasn't looking for it."

Hayes said driftwood is common in marinas, particularly after big storms and excessive high tides. She said she's seen a wake from a ferry that can cause something to fall off a shelf in a boat, "but nothing that would poke a hole" in a hull.

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