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Safely docked sailboat damaged in accident

Dec 31, 2018

The West Branch of Stamford Harbor. The catamaran Sea Jay was struck at the docks near the top of the circle.

Courtesy Eric Knott

The lesson of a recent incident in Connecticut is this: Any time vessels are operating in close proximity, an accident is possible. Even though it was safely tied to a dock in Stamford, Conn., the custom multihull Sea Jay was damaged in mid-September when it was struck by a tugboat guiding two loaded gravel barges.

The lead barge pushed by the 1,800-hp Seeley hit the 52-foot catamaran Sea Jay at about 1030 on Sept. 17 in the West Branch of Stamford Harbor. The tug and barges were on final approach to the O&G Industries terminal at the time. The yacht was docked at the Hinckley Yachts boatyard located immediately south of the terminal.

Stamford Harbormaster Eric Knott said Seeley was reconfiguring its two barges from a line-ahead to side-by-side setup when the incident happened.

“What they were trying to do is pivot the barge around to port so they had two barges side by side,” Knott said in a recent phone interview. “They still had the line attached — it’s a common move in the harbor.”

The Coast Guard is still investigating the incident and has not determined the cause, according to Petty Officer 3rd Class Hunter Medley of Sector New York.

The lead barge struck the rear of the portside pontoon on Sea Jay as the barge pivoted into the side-by-side configuration, Knott said. The impact tore off part of that pontoon and damaged internal structures on the boat. The starboard pontoon was damaged from getting pushed into the dock.

Sea Jay, valued at roughly $1.3 million, was at Hinckley undergoing final outfitting for a voyage to the South Pacific. Sea Tow later hauled the vessel to Norwalk Cove Marina, which pulled it out of the water.

Hinckley staff reported light sheening in the waterway after the accident, and responders deployed boom and sorbent pads to recover any fuel in the waterway, Medley said. The amount of fuel that entered the waterway, and its source, were not available.

The O&G terminal is located toward the back of the harbor’s West Branch, which runs almost north-south near the city’s downtown. Reaching the terminal dock requires passage through several marinas on both sides of the waterway.

Authorities recently approved construction of the Hinckley yard and its placement of slips in the waterway, despite strong objections from Knott and some other harbor stakeholders. He said he predicted two years ago that such an accident was likely. The marina became operational in June.

“The new marina is right at the end of the federal channel … right at the beginning of the turning basin where the tugs actually maneuver,” Knott said. “This is where the tugs start to maneuver and reconfigure things.”

Peter Manion of Hinckley Yachts Stamford acknowledged that the marina runs right up against the O&G terminal near the navigation channel. He believes Sea Jay was outside the channel when the accident occurred but noted the Coast Guard will make a final determination.

“We’re sorry for the damage to the boat because the owners were getting ready to go on a long trip and they have been delayed,” Manion said. “How long is to be determined.”

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