By Dave Powell, Captain Patrick Price Reef Project Manager
On Sept. 6, 2021, Capt. Patrick Price passed away from COVID-19. Soon thereafter, a group of about 100 boat owners, captains, and fishermen, all friends of Pat’s, got together for afternoon beer in front of Fish Heads Tackle Shop. Their goal was to come up with a memorial to honor their good friend.
An artificial reef project was at the top of their list in addition to a boat parade. A couple of these friends of Pat contacted me, knowing I have a long history of managing artificial reef projects and am Vice President of the Mac Reef Fund.
As an officer and former president of the Stuart Sailfish Club, I have known Pat for many years. So I volunteered a boat that I had title of, the Spirit of Palm Beach, a roughly 70’ tour boat that had been sitting out at Willis Boat Yard. Also, I was aware that there might be a 98’ motor yacht available, the Last One, which was also sitting out on bunks at Willis Boat Yard.
Asked if I would consider taking on this memorial project, I agreed that I would, but that I did not want to be responsible for raising the roughly $250,000 I estimated would be needed. Many in this group were already talking about raising the funds but had no idea of the cost involved. Dwight Wilson spoke up and volunteered to help raise the needed funds. I asked my good friend Richard Shoup, then president of the Sailfish Club, if he would help me in the day-to-day running of the many contractors, as I had travel plans for all of October. Richard agreed.
During the last 7 months, I obtained clear title on these 2 vessels as well as a nice check from the wife of the Last One’s owner. I quickly determined that Martin County did not have permission from the State of Florida to sink vessels of this size in any of their permitted artificial reef regions. So I contacted the county of St. Lucie, which does have state permission.
Working with my friend Jim Oppenborne, the county’s coordinator for artificial reefs, we selected 2 sites that were appropriate, depth-wise, for these 2 vessels: a 100’ deep site to the southwest for the Spirit and a deeper site of 180’ for the Last One just south of the reef Muliphin.
The cleanup required the removal of all oil, fuel, plastics, glass, motors, wiring, chemicals, and most, but not all, wood. I hired CRB, a Miami-based environmental cleanup contractor, to undertake 90% of this work. There were many other subcontractors who removed the diesel, motors, glass, and many other pieces of equipment.
Near the end of the project, I determined that 30 tons of concrete needed to be added to the Spirit and 15 tons added to the Last One to provide the stability required by the state to keep these vessels in place. McCulley Marine, from out of Ft. Pierce, was hired to provide tug services to get these 2 vessels out to sea in less than the max sea state of 3 (as required by the USCG) at our inlet. Over a dozen other contractors were hired to undertake all of the work necessary to pass FWC, USCG, and St. Lucie County formal inspections.
The last step was to drop each of the vessels into the canal to test for leaks. Each of these vessels had 3 leaks that were large enough to require repairs. The vessels were taken back out of the water to repair the leaks, then back to the docks at Willis, where they both now sit.
I must add that this project could not have been undertaken without the full support of Pat’s wife, Mandy, his mother, Judie, our team members Richard and Dwight, Willis Management, who have been unbelievably helpful, CRB management and workers, numerous contractors, cash donors, suppliers donating in-kind support, USCG, Boat US, McCulley Marine… the list goes on and on. Many of them are listed on the back of the shirt we handed out to donors and sold to non-donors to help underwrite this project.
Now we are ready to go. It turns out that this last challenge has been the most difficult to manage so far as scheduling goes. We need the assistance of at least 3 or 4 large (over 50’) vessels to carry family, friends, donors, and contractor management to the site. We anticipate that there will be 30 to 50 smaller vessels full of Pat’s friends that want to see these vessels sink on 2 subsequent, hopefully weekend, mornings. I have talked with many Sailfish Club captains and owners of vessels like the Showtime, the Unbelievable, the Kingsbury, etc. to find the vessels we need on 2 to 3 days’ notice, which is all I got from the tug operator.
I recognize that this is a busy time of the year for this request. We hope that owners of vessels not in the fishing business would consider volunteering 1 or 2 mornings to make a 3-hour viewing of the sinkings with 8 to 12 guests onboard. We are estimating a 1-hour sinking at around 9 a.m. and 12- and 15-mile trips. Guests can arranged to be picked up at fuel docks or sandsprit park docks.
Hopefully, with all of Pat’s friends and Club supporters, we will find some vessels that want to experience the sinkings. Some have suggested that I consider the tour and head boats, but for a number of reasons, these are not available. I am open to other suggestions.