Man recounts being washed onto Miami home during Hurricane Irma
David Ivler never wanted a fleet of sailboats, but he’s got one now.
In his back yard.
Ivler is reluctant commodore of the 48-foot, 40-ton, twin-masted, black and gold Coup d’Amour, which looks like a pirate ship, as well as the Sava, the Moin and the Sailing the Wings of Destiny, each about 35 feet long. The four vessels are sandwiched together like books on a shelf at the waterfront end of Ivler’s picturesque Coconut Grove property, just beyond his swimming pool. They block his view of Biscayne Bay. They excrete an aroma of sewage, gasoline, rotting food and fetid saltwater. They attract rats.
They are among the dozens of runaway boats that broke free from their moorings or anchors during Hurricane Irma and were carried ashore, tossed by the storm surge like toys in a bathtub. The Coconut Grove coastline is littered with boats from Dinner Key that crashed into backyards and parking lots, tangled in mangroves, or ran aground on Ransom Everglades School’s football field and the Barnacle’s lawn.
These boats are not sailing into the sunset. They are not sailing anywhere. Most are damaged or submerged. Keels are cracked, hulls busted open, sails shredded. They are stuck in awkward positions. Salvage and crane companies want thousands of dollars to remove them, but many boat owners don’t have insurance, can’t afford to pay or have gone AWOL, leaving homeowners with the equivalent of a beached whale. Nobody seems to know what to do about them.
Grove resident Bernardo Fort-Brescia can’t get rid of two sailboats that rammed into his seawall and dock, wrecked his lift and the boat that was resting on it and then sank to the bottom of his cove.
“Still sitting there, one with a 50-foot mast sticking out of the water,” said Fort-Brescia, co-founder of Arquitectonica, Miami’s iconic architecture firm. “They say they don’t have insurance. So we have to cover our own deductibles and put in a claim and pay for the destruction? It’s outrageous.”
Fort-Brescia described the predicament of neighbors, one of whom had a boat flung 60 feet into his yard and up to the windows of his house.
“You can build a hurricane-proof house and calculate for a 2-by-4 or a coconut flying through the air, but how do you calculate for a sailboat crashing through your window?” he said.
Ivler, who lives in the Camp Biscayne development, is at his wit’s end. Salvage companies gave him estimates of $50,000-$75,000 to remove the four boats, which also damaged the historic coral rock seawall, sprinkler system, lighting and landscaping. There was a sunken sailboat in Ivler’s basin until the owner had it removed last week.
The owner of the Destiny showed up, surveyed the damage, collected his belongings and handed the title to Ivler’s wife, Jessica.
“He said, ‘I don’t want it. It’s yours. I’m done. I’m out. Bye,’” Jessica said. “He said he was moving to the mountains of North Carolina. He walked away and left us to figure this out.”
The owner of the Moin is in Spain and says he’d like to reclaim his boat but isn’t sure how because the Coup d’Amour is in the way.
The owners of the Coup d’Amour (which means Shot of Love) are skipper and cook on a charter that’s in the Caribbean and may be going around the world and have been uncooperative, Ivler said. Their relatives came over one day to remove belongings and told Ivler not to touch the boat because they are attempting to recover money from FEMA. Since then they’ve been unresponsive, he said. Inside the ghostly Coup are a couple of aloe plants, a coffee-stained spoon, pencil holder, a sign that says “Life is Better on a Boat,” and a coconut painted teal with the words “No Worries.”
“You’re the owner of an 80,000-pound boat and you abandon it on somebody else’s property?” Ivler said. “Absolutely irresponsible and nasty. You cannot sue these people. How do you serve them? They probably have zero assets except for a dilapidated boat.
“We’re the innocent victims and now we have to deal with this horrible, expensive problem.”
The owner of the fourth boat, Sava (named after the mermaid of Warsaw) is Chris Krupa from the Anchorage, where live-aboards drop anchor and reside for free. He was swept into Ivler’s yard during the hurricane, waving from the bow as Ivler waved back, incredulously, from his balcony.
Krupa decided to ride out Irma on Sava because his dinghy motor failed and because his cat, Mayfair, got agitated as the storm approached and went into hiding on the boat.
“I call her Mae West sometimes because she’s got a mind of her own,” he said. “My mother called and told me, ‘Are you crazy? Get off the boat!’ She was crying. But I was not going to leave my cat, no matter what.”
Krupa secured his boat with 200 feet of line on three anchors, but the lines broke as Irma whipped the bay with 100-mph gusts on the morning of Sept. 10.
“The boat was heaving up and down, five-foot seas, I was sick, then the cat reappeared,” Krupa said. “About 11:20 a.m. I heard the starboard line break. It sounded like the twang of a guitar string snapping. Then the port line broke.”
Within minutes, the Sava was skidding a mile across the bay. Krupa clambered onto the deck, grabbed a line and tried to lasso a channel marker piling. The water was nearly up to the top of it. He missed. He was blown through mangroves and into Ivler’s yard, past the Coup until he ran into the Destiny. The Moin followed him in. All four boats are wedged together, listing to port, facing north.
“I jumped off, went over to David and he yelled, ‘What are you doing?’” Krupa recalled. “I said, ‘What do you mean, what I am doing? I got stuck on my boat.’ He asked if I could help batten things down. Then they gave me a sandwich and dry clothes.”
The Ivlers have since befriended Krupa, giving him odd jobs. He is living out of his Camaro. He’s expecting to get some money next month and is determined to pay to rescue and repair his boat, which lost its rudder. He’s devised one method, which involves building a plywood ramp next to the Coup, covering the boat in vegetable oil and renting a winch to pull it out.
“It is massive,” he said, gazing at the Coup’s barnacle-covered keel. “But there’s got to be a way. Look at how people moved heavy things in ancient times.”
The Ivlers, echoing the frustration of other property owners, have talked to a succession of government authorities and lawyers but have found no answers. The boats have been stamped with removal notices from the U.S. Coast Guard and the Miami Police Marine Patrol, but no action has been taken. He’s also contacted city commissioners, Dinner Key Marina, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Emergency Support Function command center and FEMA.
“I’ve worked in commercial real estate in Miami for 30 years, dealt with all kinds of people and regulations and this is one of the most complicated problems I’ve ever faced,” he said. “Everybody points a finger. You go in circles. Nobody has a solution.
“We as citizens work hard, abide by the rules, pay enormous taxes and when you need the city or the federal government to step forward they don’t.”
Three of the boats in Ivler’s yard came from the city’s Dinner Key mooring field, where renters pay $345 per month to tie up to a mooring ball. They are not required to move their boats to safe harbor when a hurricane warning is issued and are told the moorings can withstand 125-mph winds. Just before Irma struck there were about 120 boats in the field. After the storm, eight remained. Lines broke, boats were carried away or transformed into bowling balls that collided with or crushed other boats. Angry boat owners say they were misled by the city.
“A lot of boaters didn’t take proper precautions in securing their boats,” said Robert Pease, who lives on a catamaran in the mooring field and moved his boat during the storm. “The mooring field and anchorage are very open and exposed and people need to be smart, but they’re not. The safest thing is to move your boat to a protected area.”
Said Paul Hartford, who lives in the Anchorage and moved his boat: “The city says they have Superman moorings, but if you don’t have enough [length] on your lines, you are going for a ride. Then you’ve got the derelict, trash boats in the Anchorage that weren’t anchored properly. Most of those are gone. The storm provided a cleansing.”
Ivler said the city ought to crack down on any boaters moored or anchored in the bay.
“I don’t understand how the city isn’t negligent when these boats fly loose and become bombs, damage property and harm the environment,” he said. “How can a city on the water not have a better hurricane policy? Boat people in general live off the grid, don’t pay rent, it’s the wild west. Some of them are scavengers. There was a notorious boat overloaded with two stories of junk. It’s like he went to 100 garage sales. All those items wound up in the water, polluting the bay. The government lets people live out there without any rules.”
The city, which will be expanding its mooring field, is weighing whether to require renters to move boats in the case of a named storm or have their lease terminated.
“The mooring field didn’t fail, the lines failed because the tensile strength didn’t survive the storm,” said Daniel Muelhaupt, assistant manager for the city’s Dinner Key Marina. “We let people know that these are not safe places during hurricanes. It has not been our policy to make people leave, but we are talking about changing that.”
Chris Krupa wishes he had moved the Sava to the Coral Gables Waterway. Now it is stuck in Ivler’s yard. He’s no longer living the free-spirited life on the water. He and his cat are living in his car.
“I want to get her out of here and I will,” Krupa said. “I guess on the bright side I’m lucky I didn’t drown. And for David’s sake, we’re lucky the boats didn’t end up on his balcony.”