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Boat rescued from muddy grave

A crew from Global Diving and Salvage of Seattle works to free the Jubilee, grounded  off Murden Cove Thursday. The 36-foot Chris-Craft had been midway between Eagle Harbor and Seattle on March 22, when it began taking on water and was abandoned. It washed ashore Sunday and spread debris across surrounding beaches. - Tad Sooter/Staff Photo
A crew from Global Diving and Salvage of Seattle works to free the Jubilee, grounded off Murden Cove Thursday. The 36-foot Chris-Craft had been midway between Eagle Harbor and Seattle on March 22, when it began taking on water and was abandoned. It washed ashore Sunday and spread debris across surrounding beaches.
— image credit: Tad Sooter/Staff Photo

With tow rope straining from its stern, a Global Diving and Salvage tug Archie wrestled the 36-foot motor yacht Jubilee from the mud of Murden Cove, Thursday afternoon.

The 1961 Chris-Craft had been mired in shallow water since Sunday, after being abandoned in mid-Puget Sound.

The story began on Saturday, March 22, when the Jubilee reportedly motored from its moorage in Eagle harbor, bound for a Seattle shipyard.

It made it about halfway.

That afternoon, Bainbridge Harbor Steward Bob Selzler spotted the boat from a bluff on Bill Point floundering midway across from Seattle. Water washed over its decks and a small Coast Guard cutter was idling alongside, he said.

It wasn’t until 8:30 a.m. Sunday that Bainbridge Harbormaster Tami Allen received a call from the Coast Guard Sector Seattle office, inquiring about an Eagle Harbor liveaboard who had apparently been operating the Jubilee, which was still adrift near Bainbridge.

“At that point we thought we had a missing person,” Allen said.

It turned out the that the vessel’s owner, islander and former Coast Guard serviceman Brian Lewis, was safe ashore when finally contacted by Coast Guard. Lewis had recently purchased the Jubilee and it was still registered to its previous owners in Arizona.

USCG Sector Seattle would not release details about the incident this week pending further investigation.

But according to a Bainbridge Police report, Lewis told the Coast Guard there had been an explosion in the boat’s engine compartment as he crossed the sound. As the Jubilee had begun to take on water, he reportedly rowed away from the boat in a dinghy and was towed to shore by a passing mariner. He had not made made a 911 or mayday distress call.

After determining that no life was in danger, the Coast Guard left the Jubilee to drift and made radio broadcasts warning mariners of a navigational hazard.

By Sunday afternoon the boat had been carried north to Murden Cove, where Selzler saw it drifting in shallow water.

Selzler used his own boat to board the Jubilee and deployed several anchors to keep it from grounding high on the beach. As it was, the swamped boat rested in the mud at low tide.

On Monday, Lewis was in Alaska for work, but he had told the Coast Guard that a salvage company had been retained to tow the Jubilee away, Harbormaster Allen said.

As the week progressed, residents along Murden Cove and Manitou Beach reported finding debris washed up along shore, including a toolbox, a folding table and the Jubilee’s ship’s log.

It became increasingly clear that no salvage company was coming to the rescue, and there was worry that the Jubilee would break up on the beach.

On Thursday, the state Department of Natural Resources stepped in. Lewis signed over the title to Jubilee and DNR used its Derelict Vessel Removal Program to contract Global Salvage of Seattle and have the abandoned boat towed away.

Bainbridge Police will investigate the cause of the sinking in Seattle, Allen said. Lewis did not return messages left on his cell phone this week.

Whatever the cause of the sinking, Selzler said he was surprised that the vessel wasn’t better stewarded.

“How could the Coast Guard be addressing the issue on Saturday, and have the boat be up on the beach Sunday?” Selzler said. “I was dumbfounded.”

Coast Guard protocol requires that vessels adrift initially be investigated as a case of “Man Overboard.” Once determined not in distress, the Coast Guard must make “a reasonable effort” to remove the vessel if it is a hazard to navigation, attempt locate its owner, and contact local port or city authorities if possible. Otherwise, they leave towing to private salvage companies.

“The Coast Guard does not conduct salvage,” USCG Sector Seattle Ensign Heidi Bevis said. “It would be like asking the fire department to tow your car.”

Still, Allen said there shouldn’t have been the communication gap that led to the Jubilee going aground. No oil sheen was reported from the vessel, but the the fact that there was no spill was mostly a matter of luck, she said.

“We all need to get better about calling each other in these situations,” she said.

Residents who have found debris from the Jubilee are asked to contact Allen at 780-3733.

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