A volunteer crew armed with crow bars, a garden mattock and muscle began tearing apart an abandoned houseboat Thursday, beginning the final chapter of the old vessel that sat rotting at Savannah River dock for the past two years.
Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus said several days of work to refloat the old wreck finally succeeded Wednesday, so volunteers moved swiftly to tow the 45-foot vessel down to the Riverfront Marina boat ramp where it could be safely demolished.
“We didn’t think it was going to come up, but after we got another pump in there, she popped up,” Bonitatibus said. “It was go time.”
The saga of the old boat dates back to July 2010, when its last owner, whom Augusta Marina officials identified as Garcha Singh, had the boat towed up stream to a dock behind a home in the Water’s Edge community owned by W.D. Dixon.
The boat was abandoned there, and that is where it sank, Bonitatibus said. Singh never returned for the vessel and Dixon has said it was never his boat, so he wasn’t responsible.
Bonitatibus said no state or federal agency had the authority or funding to remove the sunken wreck, so it sat at the dock slowly falling apart until this summer. That’s when Bonitatibus sought help from the city to clean up the houseboat along with other sunken vessels and debris along Augusta’s riverfront.
Last month, Augusta City Administrator Fred Russell approved $6,000 in city funds to do just that and soon after volunteers got to work on the old boat. Those volunteers included a couple of Boy Scouts and the adult leaders from Troop 47, said troop leader Mike Wheeler.
On Thursday, Wheeler, along with his son, Joseph Wheeler, and friend Josh Evans, were peeling away layers of rotting plywood and metal from a portion of the boat’s roof. It was dirty, hard work in the sweltering heat, but they seemed to enjoy the huge task before them.
“This is right up their alley,” Wheeler said. “They just love stuff like this.”
Leading the demolition was Ben Jacobson, the father of Bonitatibus, who had taken some vacation from his physical therapy job in Savannah to help out his daughter this week.
“I like to support her,” Jacobson said. “What she does is good work.”
Jacobson said tearing apart the vessel is tough work, but the trickiest part of the job – getting the leaky old boat downstream – has been accomplished.
While patching holes in the hull, Jacobson said the volunteers displaced a couple of big snakes and a fat muskrat, which quickly became a meal for an alert osprey.
He said the 2-mile trip down river was touch-and-go for awhile. Even with three pumps running to keep it afloat, the boat managed to spring another leak.
“It started sinking on the way down,” he said. “We all had to stand on one side of the deck to keep it from listing.”