Most of the claims that pass through the Novamar Insurance claims department are pretty standard. But after insuring boats for nearly 40 years, we've seen plenty that are anything but.
After a successful day of fishing in Mexico, a large sportfisher was returning to port when a whale breached directly underneath the boat causing a 2’hole in the bow of the boat. Fortunately the captain was very experienced and stuffed what he could in the hole to minimize the water incursion, got the pumps going, trimmed the bow up to keep most of the hole above water, and called for the local boatyard to “have the straps ready, I am coming in hot”. The boat was hauled and repaired. While it was a very expensive and time-consuming repair, the captain’s quick action saved a multimillion-dollar boat from a total loss. Sadly, it is unlikely the whale fared as well.
A 90’ houseboat ran hard aground in the mud in Lake Powell. In the middle of the hot summer, the water was receding so quickly the boat could not be floated. The Parks Department would not allow the boat owner and the insurance company to wait for winter rains to fill the lake and float the boat so the insurance company hired a swamp buggy that was transported from Louisiana to tow the boat and refloat her. By the time the equipment arrived a week later, the houseboat was stuck in the mud ½ mile from deep water! A week after that, they were able to refloat the boat and make the necessary hull repairs. Very expensive!
Sailboat racing is not supposed to be a contact sport, but occasionally there are collisions. Many years ago, a tight ULDB 70 fleet was tacking up the city front in San Francisco. The fleet favored the shoreline to stay out of a flooding current with boats trading tacks, so the crossings were close. Just after completing a tack from starboard to port tack right in front of a St. Francis Yacht Club packed with spectators, the leeward running backstay winch on the port tack boat fouled which prevented the mainsail from being eased which prevented the helmsman from being able to duck an oncoming starboard tack boat. The high-speed collision exploded a large Barient #32 winch on the starboard tack boat, spun the boat around, and left a huge V shaped hole from the deck to within 6” of the waterline. With water gushing in, the starboard boat tacked, was pumped out, and proceeded back to the dock at St. Francis Yacht Club under power to assess the damage. It was an unfortunate day on the water for sure, but the most interesting thing was while we were below. A few of us were discussing the best way to get the boat repaired when hands appeared inside the gaping hole in the side of the boat from spectators reaching in and picking out pieces of the balsa hull core. When I peered out at them from inside the boat and asked what they were doing, I was told they wanted to take home some souvenirs, like pieces of the Berlin Wall. I asked them to stop but had to laugh.
One evening in late December, I received a scratchy ship to shore phone call from a Panamanian freighter telling me they had responded to a Mayday call from the captain of a 55’ sailboat that we insured near Guadalupe Island, Mexico. The captain handed the radio to our client who told me that he and his family and crew abandoned ship due to bad weather. They had blown out all their sails, their fuel filters were fouled, and batteries dead so the boat was completely disabled. His wife and daughter were terrified, and the captain and crew were exhausted. The transfer of the captain and crew from the yacht to the freighter was harrowing, but luckily no one was injured. The yacht owner informed me he had already contacted a salvage company to recover the yacht, so I contacted the salvor to inquire about the cost of the vessel recovery. I thought the quote was exorbitant as the yacht’s EPIRB was deployed so the sailboat’s location was not in question. In my view, this was a straightforward vessel recovery and 300-mile tow back to the U.S. I thought we were being taken advantage of. I contacted the insurance company and several good friends to see if we could organize the recovery ourselves to save some money. One friend loaned us his recently restored Bertram 31, one friend loaned us some fuel drums (the Bertram did not have the fuel capacity to make the round trip) , another friend opened the fuel dock on Christmas Eve to fill our tanks, and found three other friends ready to jump onboard as crew and to hopefully MacGyver the boat back into operation so we wouldn’t have to tow her all the way back to Newport Beach, CA. So on Christmas Eve the insurance company marine department manager gave us the green light to recover the boat ourselves. We advised the salvage company that we would not require their services and they agreed to stand down. As we left Newport Harbor late on Christmas Eve for a planned arrival the following day, we heard the salvage company on the VHF radio asking the US Coast Guard for the most recent position of the yacht. They had lied to us and were already on their way from San Diego to claim salvage rights! Leaving from San Diego, the salvage boat had a 60-mile advantage and 1 hour head start so we calculated we had to increase our speed from 15 to 25 knots to arrive onsite first. We left the harbor with full fuel tanks and 4 full 55 gallon fuel drums, but the increase in speed killed the fuel economy and would only leave us with about 30 minutes of search time before we had to break for shore to San Quintin, Mexico and refuel. Fortunately, we arrived first. We came upon the sailboat with tattered sails rolling wildly in 10’ beam seas, and her interior in complete disarray. Books, clothes, and Christmas presents strewn all over, like a ghost ship, with a story to tell. We transferred fuel from the sailboat (which luckily had 300 gallons of fuel aboard) using the sailboat’s spinnaker pole to hoist the four 55-gallon fuel drums and boom them over to the cockpit of the Bertram. Maneuvering the Bertram under the drums and lowering them into the cockpit without the boats hitting each other as the two boats rolled in the swell was like wrestling a greased manatee, but it worked. Two of us aboard the Bertram stood by, just in case we had to tow the sailboat boat back to California, while the other two crew got busy on the sailboat replacing fuel filters, securing the sails, and generally cleaning things up on deck and down below. An hour later, they got the sailboat’s engine running, and both the sailboat and the Bertram motored for Newport Beach. The great irony of this story is while motoring north, the VHF radio on the sailboat crackled. Apparently, the salvage boat had broken down on its way, which is why they were nowhere to be found when we arrived on site. Apparently, they were disabled and dead in the water about 10 miles from the sailboat’s current position. My friends called the salvage boat on the VHF, gave them their position, and offered the salvage boat a free tow back to San Diego, which was refused. Their company had already sent another boat to tow them back to San Diego. The story ends with our client arriving from Panama the following week to find his boat back in her slip, all cleaned up and ready to go. The exercise saved the insurance company about $50,000 so it was a nice Christmas present for everyone, except for maybe the salvage company.
Recently in Newport Beach a rather unstable gentleman decided to steal a motor yacht and take it for a joyride. His boat handling skills left a lot to be desired to say the least. He started by running over a nearby dock and dismasting a sailboat along with destroying its hull. Luckily the sailboat owner was down below, or she would have been seriously injured. He backed out, hit another dock then proceeded across the bay where he hit a classic wood yacht, crashed into a private dock, pushing the dock into our client’s nice motor yacht causing hull and paint damage. Our client is a lifelong boater, keeps his boat in a very secure private slip in front of his home. Who would have thought his boat could sustain significant damage while sitting in front of his house and not moving? The total damage to docks and boats was well over $1,000,000.