Workboat replica winds up ‘on the rocks’

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Alcohol may have been a factor in the Virginia grounding

A 55-year-old man who ran his 43-foot replica workboat onto a rock jetty in Hampton, Va., in late July, was arrested on the scene by Hampton police and charged with operating while intoxicated.

George Brian McCauley of Virginia Beach reportedly told police he was returning from a sailboat race in Solomons Island, Md., and landed on the rocks at the mouth of the Salt Ponds Inlet just after turning off his autopilot.

“I pushed the wrong controls, and the boat swerved off course,” says McCauley. “I was only going about 10 knots and was tired after eight hours of operating the boat alone. I was heading into the Salt Ponds Inlet to anchor for the night and sleep because I still had about 15 miles to go.”

McCauley’s autopilot had directed the boat to a 19-foot-high flashing-red navigation aid at the inlet, and when he reached it he shut the pilot off. The marker warns boaters to steer clear of the jetty, which extends 150 yards into Chesapeake Bay.

His boat, Mary Rebecca, was built on the lines of a traditional Bay deadrise workboat in 2002 by Jimmy Drewery at The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Va. It came to rest on the rocks at high tide around 10 p.m. July 20.

“I had called a towboat to pull me off, and with a tow line I think I could have gotten it off,” he says. But he says police arrived first and took him into custody. By daylight, with the tide down, the boat presented a dramatic sight marooned on the pile of rocks.

The accident occurred between Grandview and Buckroe beaches, according to press reports and the Hampton police. Insurance company adjusters determined the boat was salvageable, and it was towed off the rocks.

McCauley, who was released July 21 on $1,000 bail, had undergone a blood alcohol test, and police reportedly determined his alcohol level was nearly twice the legal limit. He was uninjured. Within 20 minutes of the grounding police were on the scene after residents called to report the accident.

Drewery says Mary Rebecca is a tough deadrise-type boat planked with Southern white cedar. The bottom is glassed over and the bow area beefed up with fiberglass. She was towed to Cobbs Marine Railway on Little Creek in Norfolk where she was hauled and inspected. The damage wasn’t major.

Drewery has built about 15 wooden boats of various sizes at The Mariners’ Museum, which allows him to use its facilities and a shed to exhibit a traditional boatbuilding operation that also is accessible to visitors.