Broward County

This beached boat can be yours. You just need to get it out of the sand.

Chad Lisi's 32-foot sailboat has been lodged on Hollywood beach for nearly a month and a half.  On Friday, Hollywood can officially take ownership of the vessel and begin trying to remove the boat, though the owner says towing it back out to sea could cost as much as $20,000.
Chad Lisi's 32-foot sailboat has been lodged on Hollywood beach for nearly a month and a half. On Friday, Hollywood can officially take ownership of the vessel and begin trying to remove the boat, though the owner says towing it back out to sea could cost as much as $20,000. rellis@miamiherald.com

People have all sorts of ideas as to how a 32-foot sailboat got marooned on Hollywood beach.

A couple in town from Olive Branch, Mississippi, heard it’s been wedged in the sand for months, a leftover from Hurricane Irma. Employees at a nearby sports bar describe it as a “shipwreck,” some somber vestige of an accident nobody knows about.

The truth isn’t quite so dramatic.

Chad Lisi, a 42-year-old scuba instructor, was relocating from Boca Raton after landing a gig at Rainbow Reef Dive Center in Key Largo. Worried about paying rent in the pricey Keys, Lisi decided to purchase a boat that could moonlight as a bedroom.

In late April, he put down $1,500 on a frail 1968 Morgan sailboat. The rigging was too decayed to support sails and the motor hadn’t been touched in years. But it was buoyant. So he attached a brand new 10-horsepower engine to his future home, and, three days later, set off for Key Largo.

The trip, he said, was supposed to be “cake,” a breezy, day-long journey down the coast. He only planned to head south for a few hours before a friend with a more powerful motor would meet him and tug him to the Keys.

“There was no doubt in my mind that everything would be fine,” he says. He and his home would be docked in Key Largo by late afternoon.

A month and a half later, the boat sits beached on a bed of seaweed in Hollywood — and Lisi has been charged with abandoning it.

“There’s not really one place where it went wrong,” Lisi says of the journey once considered cake. “The whole thing was a disaster.”

A boat graveyard sits in the Dinner Key marina parking lot on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. Boats damaged and abandoned after Hurricane Irma are stacked up to be demolished.

A journey gone awry

On the morning Lisi headed south, there was “not even a breeze.” The water was flat and the sky was clear. His boat crept along the coast.

It wasn’t long, though, before heavy wind began to brew and the waves started to rise. With winds pushing north at 30 miles an hour, Lisi’s “just out of the box” motor was soon brought to a useless purr.

The boat, he says, “was dead in the water.”

The Kansas native called his friend, the only person he knew in Florida with a boat, and asked for an early tow. Unfortunately, the friend had just discovered his fuel tank was leaking gas into the boat’s hold. Lisi would be on his own.

Right at the reef line of Hollywood beach, Lisi decided to jump ship. He wedged the anchor into the ocean floor and free-stroked the half mile toward shore.

“I literally lost everything I own with that,” Lisi says. “My phone’s floating somewhere in the ocean — my wallet, my keys. Everything.”

Lisi did get his sailboat back. Sort of.

After a few days straining in stormy weather, the anchor line snapped and Lisi’s boat began its journey to shore, soon docking itself on the surf along the Hollywood Broadwalk.

It has remained there for over a month, its barnacled blue belly raised in the air for all to see. Passersby who peek through the windows can see remnants of Lisi’s short journey — Capri Suns and Smart Water bottles and the interior shelving of all the kitchen cabinets.

Pam Hall, who has been vacationing near the site, says the boat has become quite “the tourist attraction” with “non-stop hot girls on the rail posing.”

Stationed directly in front of the wreck, lifeguard Kevin Channer has seen it serve as a backdrop for selfies, photoshoots and one choreographed music video.

“Every time they climb on it, I have to whistle at them,” Channer says. “It’s all day.”

Children regularly try to board, disregarding the single strip of police tape wrapped around the back, warning beachgoers that this is not a playground toy, but a "CRIME SCENE - DO NOT ENTER.”

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Morgan Baur, 8, poses in front of the abandoned boat. Children climb the deck and a lifeguard routinely blows his whistle. Kim LaFauci

Bogged in bureaucracy

It would be a stretch to call the site a crime scene. But abandoning an ailing boat is a misdemeanor in Florida and the Hollywood Police Department issued Lisi a citation once the vessel washed ashore.

According to state law, Lisi had 45 days to remove the boat before the city could take ownership and dispose of it themselves.

Those 45 days were up on Friday.

Officer Christian Lata, a spokesman for Hollywood police, says the city will begin to put its "efforts into somehow getting rid of the vessel" after the weekend.

Some residents have complained a month and a half is too long to let a 32-foot sailboat linger without recourse. Members of a local Hollywood Facebook group regularly discuss the boat's extended stay on their shoreline, with some decrying the city's inaction. Others suggest it become a pool deck for the Jimmy Buffett-themed Margaritaville hotel, a sentiment echoed by at least one city leader.

Tony Thomas, who has lived in Hollywood for more than 20 years, says he does "not accept the city's explanation that there should be a 45-day wait to resolve this."

"It's an eyesore and a safety risk for children who play in and around the boat," he says.

Lata says he doesn’t “see it being a danger to anyone right now” because it’s cordoned off by beach maintenance signs and “no one really goes around it.” He says the police have been “looking forward to getting rid of that boat,” but until Friday, the department's hands were "kind of tied."

Michael Moore, a maritime lawyer in Coral Gables, says that’s not quite true. While state law grants the owner a month and a half to remove the boat, Moore says “there’s a federal law that just says go get it.” He calls the city’s handling of the situation “misconstrued.”

Moore says federal law allows for a speedy removal of boats that are considered an “attractive nuisance” — in this case a rickety craft that children are tempted to treat like their personal pirate ship.

“You have to put on your children's hat,” he says. “I see it as a very dangerous thing.”

Moore believes the city “should be moving hard to take the boat out of there.” Instead, he says, they've been "just kind of diddling around with this 45-day waiting period.”

Lata says “these state rules are put into place to be fair,” giving Lisi “a little bit of time to get his things together and get the boat.”

But, for Lisi, time was never the issue.

Moving a beached boat is no simple task. Larger tugboats can return it to the ocean or a crane can swoop it up into the air. But, whether by land or by sea, the venture comes with a price tag that can run as high as $20,000, a cost Lisi says he could not afford.

And so the boat has remained perched in the surf opposite Harding Street for 47 days.

Now that the deadline has passed, Lata says the department is in the process of figuring out how they will wrest the 11,000 pound vessel from the sand. Until Monday, he says, "nothing is definitive."

Ship for sale

In 1984, a 180-foot Venezuelan freighter broke loose from its anchor and washed up in the back of a Palm Beach mansion. Five years later, a 500-foot ship beached itself in Fort Lauderdale until the U.S. Coast Guard came to dismantle it.

“A 32-foot sailboat kind of pales,” says John Fiore, a member of Broward County’s Marine Advisory Committee. He’s seen boats that were used to carry Cuban migrants drift ashore and others converted into cheap housing sink to the seabed after their owner deserts them.

“They all seem to sort of end up down here,” he says. “Abandoned and sunk.”

Fiore says sailboats like Lisi’s, which he calls “a floating piece of junk,” have “gone through multiple owners, and they’re reaching the end of their life.” Mid-deterioration, people “pick them up for a song [and] want to sail the world with them.”

Though Lisi only planned to steer his boat to Key Largo, he says, with some rehab, “that ship, you can take around the world.”

But first, someone has to get it off the beach.

A few people, attracted by the lure of a free boat, have called Lisi, offering to remove it themselves if they can use it to catch bait. But they quickly retreat when they realize the cost to make it move. Others are interested in carcassing it, removing the 5,000 pounds of lead on the keel and selling it for scrap.

Now that the city is responsible for disposing of it, Fiore says the cheapest option will be to bulldoze the boat directly on the beach and haul the pieces to a landfill.

Lisi says he has no interest in keeping the boat himself — or any boat for that matter. The first yacht he bought, a 37-foot-Tartan affectionately named Seawitch, was one of roughly 100 boats destroyed at the Dinner Key Marina in Coconut Grove during Hurricane Irma last September.

This boat, he didn’t even own long enough to name.

“I’m done with boats,” he says. “I give up — can’t do it.”

The Florida Keys has set up seven staging areas for discarding unclaimed boats after Hurricane Irma. Video shows an excavator crushing an unclaimed boat and placing it into a trash container.

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