Texas Coastal Geology

Richard L. Watson, Ph.D.

P.O. Box 1040 Port Aransas, TX 78373
361-749-4152 send email


Scallop Dragger to Key West


Richard L. Watson


The last time I was in Key Weird was 1989 when it nearly froze and they kept having brown outs. We turned on the 12 KW Onan and the electric heaters and may have been the only warm people in town.

The time before that I was delivering a brand new piece of crap 95 ft. twin engine scallop dragger built in Biloxi. The boat was constant trouble. The yard foreman was about 18 or 21, hadn't finished high school and was the son of the owner shipyard. Most of the workers were blacks who were treated worse than plantation slaves. The boat cost about $300k less than it should have.

The rudders broke because the entire steering gear was built wrong when I was backing down with the rudders over. That was while I was fixing the autopilot compass which was installed with the arrow pointing forward actually pointing aft. Well we took it back to the ship yard steering on the engines (through three bridges) after the yard crew came out and locked the rudders amidships with come-alongs. The welders worked all night in the lazarette (small farthest aft compartment) rebuilding the rudder system the same wrong way. They had no breathing system and not even any blowers.

Well, we put to sea the next day and got about 200 miles south in the Gulf headed for the Florida Straits and our destination of Norfolk. In the middle of a screaming norther, Betsy called me into the wheel house because the steering wheel shaft had come out of the pillow block and the boat couldn't be steered. Well, we had to leave it on slow ahead on both engines and let it go where it wanted while we fixed it. The idiots had never tightened the set screws that held the shaft in place.

Well we had to take the steering chain off of the sprocket to get the shaft back in the bearing. With the rudders bucking we couldn't pull the chain back together to get the master link back in. Big problem. Well we got ingenious and took some 1/4 inch light line and put a knot in it and laced it through the two ends of the chain, but a few links back and used the chain itself like a block and tackle to pull the ends together and got the master link back in.  Whew!

Both the mate and I got seasick working under the steering stand for 2 hours getting that done.

Went to the galley to wash up and there was no water. Oh crap. So I went down to the engine room. Holy Shiite, there was three feet of water in the engine room. I ran to the wheelhouse and turned on the tube single side band, so we could call for help in needed. Back to the engine room. Tasted the water. It was fresh, Whew!. Looked up and saw steam coming from the running 4-71 generator. Then I saw the 40 gallon, electric hot water heater rolling around between the two generators.  The water heater had broken the cooling system on the steaming engine on the way down.  Pulled the breaker for that and switched generators. Shut down the one that was about to burn up.

Secured the destroyed water heater and noticed it was held in place by a 2 inch lip around the base and nothing else held it except for the 1/2 inch soldered copper tubing at the top. Damn idiots.

Pinched off the water line and we had a little bit of water left.

Turned on one of the two electric pumps to pump the bilge and they wouldn't work, though the would work on sea suction. Hmmmmm. Looked at the plumbing and discovered that the pumps were in parallel without adequate valving and unless BOTH were running one would airlock the other. Ran them both and pumped the boat out.

Back to the galley and had to rescue the refrigerator which was not fastened in place.

Fell into the bunk, done in.

Next morning we woke to find 2 or 3 3/4 inch wire ropes with 2.5 foot long turnbuckles swinging through the air on the aft deck. They took out most of the deck lights and we were in danger of losing the outriggers into the sea.

Well, while my mate watched, I caught the turnbuckles at the upper end of their arc and we secured them. We then used our dock lines and the winches to back up the now useless rigging wires.

The idiots had put bolt type clevis pins in without safetying them and putting the bolts in upward. When the nuts came off the bolts fell out. Serious business.

Well we now had to go to Key Weird for parts, tools, water and repairs. We had no harbor charts and were approaching from the Florida Straits. I had the chart of the Florida Straits and it showed the route of the channel, but no buoys. I called Coast Guard Key West and asked them if they would tell me the buoy colors and numbers at the channel bends and intersections. They said that they weren't allowed to do that. O.K.

We entered anyway and took it to a dock. We had to go to another dock in the Truman annex (old submarine base) to take on water. While maneuvering at that dock, one of the 4 inch diameter shafts uncoupled in the ice hold because the nuts were not spot welded. Well we bought tools, and hired a mechanic to make tools and fix the shaft couplings.

That evening we went to town. After about 30 minutes in Sloppy Joes my mate and I were just too tired and much to Betsy's consternation we went back to the boat to sleep.

We did make it to Norfolk without any more serious problems, but both my mate who is now captain of a Navy spy ship (civilian manned) wanted to leave, but since that would have left me in a very bad way they continued on.

Moral of the story.

1. Don't have a high school dropout who is the owner's son run a shipyard building 200 ton vessels.

2. Don't treat the black welders like N.......

3. Don't buy a $800,000 boat for $500,000 and think you are getting a deal.

4. Don't go to Key Weird when you are too tired to enjoy it.