Fishing excursion barge loses anchor in high winds, drifts in Gulf of Mexico

A luxury fishing excursion barge broke loose and drifted in the Gulf of Mexico probably because of a problem with an anchor chain or anchor linkage, its owners said.

The 385-foot Fisherman’s Paradise drifted for several hours off Florida on Dec. 26, 2010, with four crewmembers aboard, but no passengers.

The vessel’s owners believe fatigue on the anchor system combined with difficult weather and sea conditions caused the anchor system to fail, Christopher Longrie, a spokesman for seven partners who own Fisherman’s Paradise, said in February. The anchor has since been replaced. Until divers retrieve the anchor from the Gulf, the owners can’t be certain exactly what failed.

A stern view of the luxury fishing excursion barge Fisherman’s Paradise underway off the west coast of Florida. The owners say they replaced the barge’s anchor system after the vessel broke loose and drifted in rough seas in December 2010. (Photo courtesy Fisherman’s Paradise)

Either “a linkage in the chain or a connection point at the anchor failed, so we lost the anchor and ended up with just the chain,†Longrie said.

The Clearwater, Fla.-based barge was using a single-point mooring with a 15-ton Danforth anchor and a 12-ton anchor chain made of three-inch diameter links.

The crew realized at around 1300 that it was drifting. Longrie said seas were “every bit of 10 feet†with 25-knot winds and gusts of up to 30 knots when the vessel broke free.

Fisherman’s Paradise is a five-story, 85-foot-wide, barge built for luxury fishing getaways. The 80,000-square-foot vessel is outfitted with 20 guest rooms, a helipad, several bars and a 900-bottle wine cellar. The barge itself is non-powered. Longrie described the vessel as a “mothership†for fishing and diving voyages elsewhere in the Gulf.

He said the vessel was originally built as a “quasi-members’ retreat and personal use venture.†Its owners have since decided to accept bookings from groups and individuals. For almost a year, the barge has been anchored about 15 miles west of Clearwater in 50-foot-deep water. It still has not opened for passengers or charters.

Crewmembers realized they were drifting after recognizing buildings located 30 miles south of their usual location. They let out the entire 10- to 12-shot anchor chain, which eventually stopped the vessel.

“When the chain hooked, it jerked the boat violently,†Longrie said. The chain “stopped them from being beached,†he said. “When it bit in the sand, everyone lost their footing for a brief second.â€

The company had support ships in the area. Onboard crewmembers were in contact with officials on the mainland during the four-hour ordeal. The company estimates the ship drifted roughly 15 miles before it was back under control. Two members of the crew are licensed captains, while the other two hold positions that do not require them to carry licenses, Longrie said.

Petty Officer 1st Class Mariana O’Leary, a spokeswoman for U.S. Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg, said her agency responded to the incident but is not actively investigating it.

Members of the Coast Guard came aboard the fishing barge after it was anchored, but did not stay long. “They realized it was just an act of God — in other words, that it was a failure of the mechanical system and that was it,†Longrie said.

A Dann Ocean Towing tugboat pulled the barge into the Port of Tampa Bay, where it spent almost two months in dry dock. Longrie said the barge was inspected and its anchor system was replaced.

“We obviously purchased a new anchor and we took a good look from an engineering standpoint to see how to best attach the anchor to the chain,†he said, adding that the anchor’s swivel system was tested.

Casey Conley

By Professional Mariner Staff