The story behind those ‘flying boat’ photographs

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Those were no doctored images that swept across the Internet this summer; that Marquis 55 indeed slipped out of its slings and sank

Those were no doctored images that swept across the Internet this summer; that Marquis 55 indeed slipped out of its slings and sank

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a $1.5 million motoryacht plunging bow-first into the water after it slipped out of the slings during offloading from a ship.

“We were trying to make a flying boat like Howard Hughes had,” quips Dick Nocenti. “It didn’t work.”

A crane was lifting the Marquis 55 off the deck of a ship earlier this year at Port Jebel Ali in Dubai when the sling’s forward strap slipped, says Nocenti, marketing director for Carver Yachts, of Pulaski, Wis., the builder and sister company of Marquis Yachts (www.mar quisyachts.com). The accident was captured in a dramatic sequence of photos — taken by an unknown photographer — that swept across the Internet this summer.

As the Marquis made its crashing entry into 45 feet of water, two men were in the cockpit holding on for dear life. Nocenti says the men were technicians from Western Marine, Carver’s Dubai dealership. “One guy got a broken collar bone,” he says. “He was treated and released. The other one got out OK. … Both are fine now. One of them has been here at the plant since then.”

The wind that day off Port Jebel Ali had piped up, and the sling’s forward and rear straps had no connecting lines between them to keep them from slipping apart, Nocenti says. As the crane lifted the 62,000-pound yacht over the water the boat moved in the wind, causing the bow strap to work its way forward until finally it slipped off, and the yacht plunged into the water, Nocenti says. The yacht rolled over and sank in minutes, the rear strap ripping out one of the shafts after catching on the propeller. Salvors lifted the yacht off the bottom several days later.

“The insurance company has got it now,” Nocenti says.

The Marquis was destined for an owner who five months after the accident already had bought a replacement Marquis, Nocenti says. He says Carver ships yachts out of Savannah, Ga., and once they are on the ship, they are out of the builder’s hands and in the care of the owner and his or her insurer.

Nocenti says it isn’t unusual for workers to be on the deck of a yacht as it is lowered into the water so they can start the engines right away and put some distance between the yacht and the ship as soon as the slings are removed.

As common as that practice might be, it doesn’t sit well with risk management consultant Ted Crosby of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “You do not ride the boat off the ship,” he says. “That’s a no-no.”

The accident also might give yacht owners pause to consider alternative methods of shipping. “Accidents do happen with any kind of transport,” says Catalina Bujor, spokeswoman for Dockwise Yacht Transport. However, when a yacht crosses the ocean on one of Dockwise’s semisubmersible ships, there’s no lifting it on or off. “That’s an advantage to the float-on, float-off process,” she says.

The semisubmersibles are basically oceangoing dry-docks. In port, the big carriers submerge their open cargo bays so yachts can float on while divers secure them in place with blocks and supports welded to the deck. The bays then are raised out of the water for transport. In offloading, they float out the same way they float in.

Nocenti says the semisubmersibles are too expensive for most of the commercial shipping Carver does, but the builder sometimes delivers new yachts to American owners in Europe on a conventional carrier so the owners can cruise the Mediterranean. When they finish they send their yachts back to the United States by Dockwise.

Nocenti says Carver sells 30 percent of its Marquis yachts overseas, mainly in Europe, the Middle East and Far East. He says catastrophic shipping accidents like this are unusual. “It’s a first for us,” he says.