Liveaboard dream ends on a beach

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Carl von Rosen’s 56-foot schooner washes ashore in heavy seas, and salvaging it is beyond his means

Carl von Rosen’s 56-foot schooner washes ashore in heavy seas, and salvaging it is beyond his means

Carl von Rosen dreamed of living on a boat in his native Sweden, but the dream has turned into a nightmare: The boat wound up on a South Florida beach, the cost of salvaging it beyond his modest means.

Amakhaya, von Rosen’s 56-foot Samson Sea Lord schooner, lay in the surf and sand off Jupiter this spring, 2-1/2 weeks after she washed ashore in heavy seas with a broken-down engine. The carcass of the one-time round-the-world cruiser remained a curiosity to beachgoers, but for von Rosen, who had bought the 36-year-old vessel just six weeks earlier, it was a painful reminder of how quickly plans can unravel.

“All the hopes, the work, the ideas, the dreams,” they, too, seem unsalvageable now, says von Rosen, who spoke to Soundings by telephone from Stockholm.

Von Rosen, 54, a retired children’s aid worker who has lived in Colombia and Pakistan, was diagnosed with lymphatic leukemia seven years ago. He and his wife, Inger, had hoped to move aboard Amakhaya — Zulu for “our home” — and live on it at a dock on one of Stockholm’s islands. They wanted to use the boat as a test bed for a system that biologically treats waste water, and promote its use on boats to help clean up the Baltic.

The couple started planning for this a decade ago. They had decided the Sea Lord was the boat they wanted, but because the ferro cement cruiser is an old design, they had been talking with an English architect about building an updated version. But as von Rosen’s prognosis worsened, he and Inger decided to move more quickly. They found Amakhaya and bought it from its American owner, who had cruised the Caribbean with it for four years until cancer forced him to sell.

The salty 34-ton schooner was stable, sturdy, reasonably easy to handle, and roomy enough to live on, von Rosen says. Its first owner, a South African, had circumnavigated on it. Von Rosen picked the boat up in the Dominican Republic and sailed it to Riviera Beach where he, three Swedish crewmembers and an American captain, Tom Ditch, worked on it at Cracker Boy Boat Works for three weeks, delaying the Swedes’ departure for Europe by 10 days.

Von Rosen found unexpected problems on Amakhaya. He had to replace all the electrical wiring, batteries, and some of the through-hulls and running rigging. By March 30 he thought the vessel was ready for the Atlantic crossing to Sweden. He went to buy provisions that afternoon while the crew sea-trialed the schooner on the Atlantic, taking it out Lake Worth Inlet to Stuart, 30 miles away.

Petty Officer George England, on duty that day at Coast Guard station Lake Worth, says a furious evening thunderstorm accompanied by golf-ball-sized hail and tornado warnings turned the seas nasty. Eight- to 10-foot waves were breaking over the sandbar at the St. Lucie Inlet at Stuart, and a stiff onshore wind was blowing about 20 knots.

“It was not a nice day,” England says.

As Amakhaya approached the inlet, a wave threw its Swedish skipper against the stern steering station, breaking one of his ribs. Ditch, a veteran powerboat captain who had never sailed before, took the helm only to discover that the steering now wasn’t working. He called for help on a cell phone, and a MartinCounty sheriff’s helicopter responded, notifying the Coast Guard that a sailboat was in distress near the inlet.

Von Rosen says the crew eventually figured out that the steering station inside the pilothouse works independently of the stern station and was still operating. Von Rosen says Ditch — a passenger on the sea trial — got the boat back under control using the operable station, but the sheriff’s officers and Coast Guard advised him not to try to run the inlet. St. Lucie inlet is notorious for its shifting shoals, and Amakhaya draws 7 feet. It easily could have hit the bottom in a deep wave trough near the mouth of the inlet.

Ditch says the crew of a 33-foot Coast Guard vessel from Lake Worth advised that Amakhaya follow them down the beach to Lake Worth Inlet, 30 miles away, and go in there. Looking back, Ditch says he thinks it was a bad strategy because it put Amakhaya too close to shore — a mile off the beach — in a stiff onshore wind. He says he thought he had the assurance that the Coast Guard would be close by, its crew ready to throw a tow line onto Amakhaya if necessary.

Seas were too rough to transfer the injured skipper to the Coast Guard vessel, so Ditch wedged him into a berth with cushions and lashed him down to try to prevent his broken rib from puncturing a lung. Around Jupiter Inlet, the engine — straining against the seas — began to overheat, so Ditch asked if Amakhaya could go in at Jupiter inlet. Again, the Coast Guard advised against it because of the rough seas and the difficulty of navigating the inlet, Ditch says. He says the Coast Guard offered to call a private tower to take Amakhaya the rest of the way to Lake Worth, but Ditch says one company quoted $6,000, another $3,500 — too much for von Rosen’s budget. He declined the tow.

By now it was late into the night. Amakhaya didn’t have a radio, so the crews on the two boats communicated by pulling alongside and yelling across the water. After Jupiter, Ditch says he and the Coast Guard agreed that if the engine failed, he would signal SOS with his flashlight, and the Coast Guard would come in close and throw a tow line to Amakhaya. About 3 a.m. the engine alarm sounded; the power plant had overheated and was smoking. By now the Coast Guard had sent a 41-footer to shadow the schooner because the 33-footer was unable to take it under tow in the rough conditions. Ditch shut the engine down, turned the helm over to one of the Swedes, put another on the bow to take a tow line, and signaled the Coast Guard cutter for a tow. Then he hustled below with an extinguisher to check for fire.

What happened next is in dispute. The Swedish helmsman told Ditch the 41-footer pulled within 20 feet, its crew yelled something, and then the escort pulled away and left. England, who was on the Coast Guard vessel, says Amakhaya’s helmsman appeared to lose control. The wind and current carried the boat over the bar into the surf, then onto the beach. “We tried to get a line to him, but it happened way too fast,” England says. “We did the best we could in the conditions out there. We just couldn’t get to him.” As soon as Amakhaya hit the beach, the crew helped their injured skipper off the boat, and they all waded ashore.

Ditch says the Swedes never should have sea-trialed the boat with severe weather threatening, but the Coast Guard compounded that error by leading Amakhaya too close to shore and not letting the schooner go in at Jupiter. “It was ill-fated from the get-go,” he says.

Von Rosen, too, believes the Coast Guard left Amakhaya in the lurch. “They knew we had to stop the engine because of the overheating, the smoking,” he says. “They just needed to throw us a tow line, hold the boat in place, and let the engine cool down.” England says one bad decision — to go out that day — led to more problems for Amakhaya, but the coup de grace came when the skipper declined to accept a commercial tow before the overheating debilitated the engine.

Von Rosen paid $90,000 for Amakhaya. He doesn’t have insurance. He doesn’t have the $100,000 to salvage, store and repair the boat. It will cost at least $30,000 just to move it off the beach. He negotiated with a local dive group for them to secure permits to put Amakhaya on a barge, take it to sea, and sink it as a reef, but the talks fizzled. Von Rosen already had removed all of Amakhaya’s pollutants, including fuel and batteries, but he was no closer to moving the boat.

“We’re not getting anywhere,” he says. “I don’t know what to do.”

Von Rosen says the stress of losing Amakhaya and trying to get it off the beach has weakened him to such an extent that he had to return to Stockholm for tests to see if he needs more leukemia treatments. “It’s chronic,” he says.

Meanwhile, the boat sits, a nagging reminder that something must be done before it breaks apart. The Coast Guard says it’s Jupiter’s problem. City police say it’s the Coast Guard’s responsibility. Ditch says the Department of Environmental Protection should move it. A DEP spokesman says it’s a derelict boat and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission should step in. The only thing they agree on is whoever moves Amakhaya, von Rosen will get the bill for it.

“He’s a really nice guy,” Ditch says. “He doesn’t deserve this.”

Amakhaya is one of 64 C.S. Norris-designed Sea Lords from Samson Marine Design in Vancouver, British Columbia, von Rosen says. She has had only two owners besides him. The first one, a South African college professor who lived in Seattle, sailed it around the world, von Rosen says. He had hoped Amakhaya would sail many more years in the Baltic.

“I feel completely at a loss why this happened at all,” he says. “It shouldn’t have happened.”