July 12, 2012
North Carolina family loses ‘dream’ boat in Pamlico Sound accident

By JORDAN TOMBERLIN



The Outer Banks—legendary for their shifting shoals, navigational hazards, and capricious weather—have played host to thousands upon thousands of shipwrecks and maritime accidents throughout their history. And this week, the Remley family of Bear Creek, N.C., became the latest testament to that enduring legacy.

Late Sunday night, July 8, John Remley, 43, his wife Diane, 42, and their two daughters, Autum and Savannah, 8 and 6, found themselves fighting a losing battle against strong winds, rough waters, and a compromised vessel in the Pamlico Sound.

Just a few days earlier, on July 5, the Remleys had set sail from Point Lookout Marina in Ridge, Md., bound for their home in Bear Creek, N.C., which is near Emerald Isle.

It was a happy occasion, as they were finally taking home the 1971 Trojan Sea Voyager that they had purchased through an online auction the previous December—a boat that John had really wanted, and one into which he had invested a considerable amount of time and money. 

Diane said that John had been actively searching for a boat, scouring listings nearly every night for about three years when he learned, sometime around Christmas last year, that his $9,000-bid had won him the wooden, 42-foot cruiser.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t exactly been a dream come true.

On John’s first attempt to bring the boat home from the Rock Hall, Md., dock where he purchased it, the starboard engine blew, somewhere around the Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse.

That’s when John found out that the boat—which he had been told had only been in its slip for a few months—had actually been sitting in the water for about two-and-a-half years. As a result, the bottom was heavily barnacled, and the impellers had dry-rotted.

He did some work on the boat, though he didn’t replace the engine, and then John headed home once again. This time, just as he got to the mouth of the Potomac River, the steering broke and he ran out of fuel.

He was towed into Point Lookout Marina by the U.S. Coast Guard, and the boat stayed there, in Maryland, with John driving back and forth from North Carolina to work on getting the boat seaworthy again. 

Six months and about $10,000 later, the boat was finally ready to make the journey from Maryland to North Carolina, and this time, with everything in order, it was going to be a family trip, with Diane and the girls coming along for the ride.

After hitting a little stumbling block in Deltaville, Va., where there was some trouble getting the reserve tanks hooked up properly, it was pretty much smooth sailing for the Remleys.

Until they got to the Outer Banks.

In retrospect, “it all started around 2 p.m., when we missed the turn at Alligator River,” John said.

The missed turn put them way behind schedule, and it meant that they were coming into the channel well after dark—something they hadn’t wanted to do.

The other problem, of course, was the conditions.

John, a licensed captain and experienced boater, said that initially, the conditions weren’t that bad. “It wasn’t pretty,” he said, “but it wasn’t unbearable.”

But sometime after getting into Rollinson Channel, he noticed that the wind had picked up and the water was getting rougher.

“We weren’t making any headway,” he said. “We had slowed from 9 knots to 6, and the wind was blowing perpendicular to the channel.”

That kind of wind wasn’t very advantageous for the Remleys, whose cruiser, under those circumstances, was basically functioning like “a big sailboat.” Only, in their situation, there were no sails to adjust, and the boat was still running on a single engine.

Diane said that the conditions had become so rough that their furniture was sliding around the salon. “The whole futon had gone flying across the room,” she said. Autum noted that she had been seasick.

Sometime around midnight, John said the boat rubbed the bottom. Though they were able to push the vessel off, their success was tempered by what John described simply as “a horrible vibration.”

He ran below deck to check the reserve tanks, and the bilge, and said that, at least at that time, everything seemed alright. “[The reserve tanks] were OK, and there was a little water in the bilge, but it was nothing to be worried about.”

But he said that, even though the boat seemed all right, he realized he wasn’t going to go anywhere—not in that boat in those conditions.

So, he tossed out the anchor and called dispatch. He woke his daughters, told them to put on their lifejackets, and then they waited for help to arrive.

The U.S. Coast Guard responded to the call, and the family rode to Oden’s Dock Marina in the Coast Guard boat, while Paul Rosell, with Towboat U.S.A., towed their cruiser into the harbor.

According to John, the boat had been stable until the moment he pulled the anchor up, but at that point, he said, she started to list and began taking on water. 

When they finally reached the marina, sometime around 3 a.m., the boat was pumped out and tied down to the harbor side of the breakwater. The goal was to get the boat on as much land as possible, to help alleviate some of the flooding and avoid further internal damage.

But it didn’t work.

The boat had sustained damage to the propeller shaft and was continuing to leak. It flooded again, and by the next day, water had taken over the engine room, effectively ruining any chances of salvaging the boat.

“Oh yeah,” John said. “It’s done.”

Between the purchasing cost, the restoration expenses, and the money to have it removed—not to mention travel expenditures—John said that the boat, on which they had liability coverage only—had just about bankrupted them.

For their part, the Remleys were kind and very pleasant—as cheerful as could be expected of anyone in their situation—especially the girls, who seemed to have taken everything in stride and come out totally unscathed.

“They have really been troopers,” Diane said. “They haven’t cried at all.”

Autum, who will be in the third grade this year and whose favorite subject is reading, had recently been reading “A Smart Girl’s Guide to Sticky Situations,” which she said probably helped her handle everything as well as she did.

And, of course, they got a little help from what Diane described as a very welcoming and helpful Hatteras community.

The Remleys lost a lot of their belongings, particularly clothes and electronics, but Asa Ballance, of Hatteras, was able to shimmy down into the partially submerged boat and recover some of the girls’ things, including their baby blankets (with which they had traveled) Savannah’s pink teddy bear, and most of their favorite toys.

“Asa has been great,” Diane said. “He was like Spider Man, getting in and out of that boat.”

And it wasn’t just Asa. Diane said they had had a positive experience with everyone they had met or dealt with during their stay.

She especially thanked Paul and Maria Rosell, who not only towed their boat in, but also made sure they had somewhere to stay that night, as well as Dan and April Oden, who came out at 3 a.m. to get them a room at the Breakwater Inn.

“Everyone has been really great,” she said. “They have been so nice and helpful.”

But despite their warm welcome, the Remleys were definitely ready to go home. They contacted their friends Bob and Karen Foss from Kinston, and the Fosses drove out to Hatteras on Wednesday, July 11, with their son R.J., to pick the Remleys up and drive them home.

Their relief when they saw Karen and R.J. walking toward them Wednesday morning was palpable. Hugs were exchanged, and spirits seemed to lift immediately.

In the end, the boat that John had so desperately wanted, and into which the Remleys had sunk about $19,000 and untold hours of their lives, was pumped out, hauled off, and chopped up.

Darrin Burrus, of Cape Dredging, completed the removal yesterday, and then the Remleys were, once again, bound for Bear Creek.

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