Sailor loses his home and dream

Author:
Publish date:
Updated on

His wooden sailboat is smashed against a rock jetty when the outboard stalls leaving an inlet

His wooden sailboat is smashed against a rock jetty when the outboard stalls leaving an inlet

Under a double-reefed mainsail and with some help from a 15-hp kicker, the sloop Scarf made its way toward the mouth of Lake Worth inlet in West Palm Beach., Fla., bound for the Bahamas.

The owner, Edward Mark Rouvier, 30, and his girlfriend, Jacinthe Croteau, 27, had worked all summer and fall to repair the deck of the 1968 Armagnac, a Philippe Harlé-designed 28-foot sloop built of plywood and rigged for cruising. “I love working on boats,” says Rouvier, a Frenchman who has been sailing and living aboard the boat for the past seven years. “My boat was ready for another 20 years of sailing.”

And Scarf might have fulfilled two more decades of service if not for a strong current and breezy conditions that pushed the boat into the north side of the inlet’s rock jetty Dec. 30, smashing the hull until it was holed and sank.

Glenna and Tom Hiett, of Marshall, Ill., were walking along a nearby beach and saw the scene unfold. “It was terrible,” says Glenna Hiett, 64. “The boat had just passed us, and my husband commented about the beautiful blue and yellow colors. We watched it go by, and then I said, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re in trouble.’ When the boat started to hit the rocks, I just stood there and cried.”

As Scarf approached the mouth of the inlet, wakes from powerboats outside created a washing-machine chop that drowned the outboard. When it stalled, the current and wind took control. Rouvier went to the bow and tried set the jib; Croteau took the tiller. They were running out of time, though, as Rouvier continued to struggle with the headsail. “The rocks are coming fast! The rocks are coming fast!” Croteau yelled.

Rouvier abandoned the jib and went aft to try and start the outboard. But the gear shift — located on the side of the 2003 Honda — was stuck in forward, which prevented Rouvier from pulling the starter cord. In the meantime, the current and wind swept Scarf into the jetty. The shocked sailors climbed out onto the rocks, barefoot and soaked from the pounding waves.

“I have been on many adventures with this boat,” says Rouvier. “I’ve hit reefs, grounded many times, and been in many storms. It happened so fast. I was not fast enough.”

Robert Friedman, 16, of Elizabeth, Colo., was one of about 30 people watching from the jetty. “There were several patrol boats, towboats, and police boats at the scene, trying to find a way to free the boat from the rocks,” says Friedman, who took the accident photos that accompany this article (www.friedwingphotography.ifp3.com). “But after about 30 minutes, they came to the conclusion that there was no possible way to dislodge the boat.”

Rouvier went back aboard to recover anything he could, coming away with a hand-held GPS, short-wave radio, binoculars, a laptop, and some life jackets. He also grabbed his passport; he was unable to find Croteau’s passport.

Croteau and Rouvier met about a year ago in Quebec, where Rouvier was working on Scarf at Marina-Tadoussac. Croteau, a single mother with two small children, had been sailing with Rouvier for about three weeks. It was her first extended period away from her children, she says.

The 28-foot Armagnac has an 8-foot, 9-inch beam, a displacement of 4,850 pounds, and a 5-foot draft with its fixed keel. Designer Harlé named many of his sailboat designs after alcoholic drinks, including Champagne, Chablis, and the Tonic 23, as well as Armagnac. In 30 years, Harlé drew almost 200 different boats, including recreational and commercial fishing vessels.

Rouvier loved the simplicity of Scarf. He barely knew how to sail when he took possession of the boat seven years ago, but he learned quickly, sailing about four years in the Caribbean and then crossing the Atlantic. The boat spent about two years in Quebec, and Rouvier and Croteau sailed down the East Coast this fall.

“It was a true love story,” says Croteau of Rouvier and his boat. “It certainly was a shock to him when this happened. We were in a cloud. We couldn’t really believe it. Every morning is very hard. We have to face reality.”

But after the accident, strangers became friends and helped Rouvier and Croteau. Glenna Hiett knew immediately that she would do anything she could. “I told Tom I don’t care where they’re from, we’re going to help them,” says Hiett.

The Hietts had two time-share condominiums at Marriott’s Ocean Pointe in Palm BeachShore and had planned to vacation there with another couple. But the other couple was unable to join them, so they let the hard-luck sailors stay at the condo while the pair regrouped. “It’s strange how this turned out … how we had this place for them,” says Hiett. “I think it was a God thing.”

At press time, Rouvier and Croteau were scraping up the money to move on to the next chapter of their lives. Croteau planned to return to Quebec to be with her family; Rouvier wanted to head to South America and get away from boats and the water for a while.

“It’s like breaking up with a woman,” he says. “It’s going to take me some time to get over this. I will slowly go back to the water. I don’t know when exactly. I want to live in a simple way.”

Rouvier plans to plant trees in South America, a symbolic gesture to replenish the wood lost when Scarf was destroyed. Before leaving for South America, Rouvier was focused on salvaging as much of his broken boat as possible. He managed to fish out the boat’s three anchors. A friend of his from Quebec was going to drive to Florida and pick up the remains of the boat and its gear.

Rouvier can be contacted at ed@zayann.org . He also has a Web site, www.scarf.zayann.org.