Abandoned Houseboat on the St. Johns River // Derelict Vessel Woes // It Sunk at Our Dock

, Abandoned Houseboat on the St. Johns River // Derelict Vessel Woes // It Sunk at Our Dock

A houseboat has dragged anchor and landed next to our dock. It’s sunk, abandoned, and we can’t get rid of it. Formerly, it was someone’s home; their whole life encapsulated on the water. Romanticism aside, if we get another hurricane, it will damage our dock. Or, if it caught on fire, it could spread to our neighborhood. We’ve spent two years trying to get it removed.

It’s beginning to look like we won’t get any help dismantling the derelict houseboat. It’s not worth salvaging, but will take hundreds of hours to break down and haul to the dump. 

We have contacted so many agencies with no help. It is registered with the state of Florida – you can register a 2X4! It does not have propulsion or steerage, so there’s some confusion on whether it qualifies for “derelict vessel” status or not in order to have it removed.

Now, on to the story of how it got there, and what we know about it!

, Abandoned Houseboat on the St. Johns River // Derelict Vessel Woes // It Sunk at Our Dock

Hurricanes Matthew and Irma

During Matthew in 2017, the abandoned houseboat broke loose and got stuck on our dock and created a lot of damage. In Irma in 2018, the exceptionally high tides brought it further and further ashore and caused it to rub up and down repeatedly on what was left of our dock.

This motion wore holes in the foam-filled pontoons, so it sunk in place. It rests inches from our dock, and even slightly underneath our dock to the East. 

, Abandoned Houseboat on the St. Johns River // Derelict Vessel Woes // It Sunk at Our Dock

Trash in the St. Johns River

While it looks kind of cute, it’s actually in pretty bad shape. It’s been ransacked, and it is full of plastic waste and rotten wood. Tarps have been disintegrating and falling in the St. Johns River, along with other plastic debris. It was moored out on an anchor that dragged more than once. Previously, it had broken loose of its mooring and damaged a neighbor’s dock.

, Abandoned Houseboat on the St. Johns River // Derelict Vessel Woes // It Sunk at Our Dock

Exploring the Houseboat

We never met the owner. Until this week, we had never gone aboard, feeling that the houseboat was someone else’s property.

The owner used to commute in the morning and evening by small boat to work. He died, left no will, and his heirs do not want the houseboat.

This week we went aboard to take an inventory and attempt to estimate how many dumpsters it would take to haul away the contents of this derelict vessel. Many.

On board, we found a sewing machine, sails for a sailboat that was moored near the houseboat, a recorder and music books. Also there was a ship’s log including entries about yoga, a work log for work on the boat. A river guide and other books are on a shelf.

, Abandoned Houseboat on the St. Johns River // Derelict Vessel Woes // It Sunk at Our Dock

Inventory on West Deck

First we started with an inventory of how much debris there was on the deck that faces West. Next, we discussed what tools we would need to dismantle the boat. Finally, we tried to estimate volume of debris and predict potential methods of removal.

It’s not our boat, and we know it should be removed by someone else. When we first started calling that it was dragging closer and closer two years ago, it would have been a much easier deal. However, we know the reality is that it may fall to us to deal with the debris. Make that “probably.”

After two years of pestering our local government, there are no solutions. Our county is overwhelmed with repairs to roads, rebuilding bridges, and dealing with insufficient EMT’s and ambulances. We realize this is not a top priority for them.

Our plan, at this point, is to bring everything to shore and sort it out. We will take all metal to the recycling place. Plastics will go in our recycling bin. Window frames can go to the metal bin, and glass can be taken to a recycling station at the dump.

Unfortunately, we used up our annual allotment at the dump due to continued hurricane clean-up. We probably will have to pay to bring more debris to the dump. Our ideal solution would be for the county to bring a dumpster at no charge. We could fill it.

, Abandoned Houseboat on the St. Johns River // Derelict Vessel Woes // It Sunk at Our Dock

Inventory on East Deck

Bat houses! Nature’s mosquito control. Those will be carefully relocated to our own home. There is a solar panel set into the side of the building.

On the second level, the small window is in a loft area that held sailboat sails. The sails will go either to the Jacksonville Zoo for their gorilla display for use as awnings. Or, they will go to a local seamstress who turns them into cute bags and totes.

On either side of the houseboat are metal brackets that held oars, awnings, and an assortment of long items for storage.

The cinder blocks are a mystery to us. An enormous aloe plant has been rescued and brought ashore. Next we will repurpose that piece of marble and retrieve the crab traps and put them to use.

, Abandoned Houseboat on the St. Johns River // Derelict Vessel Woes // It Sunk at Our Dock

Sailors simply cannot resist a mess of line, so this went straight to the garage. Hundreds of feet of line in really great shape.

, Abandoned Houseboat on the St. Johns River // Derelict Vessel Woes // It Sunk at Our Dock

Clues About the Owner

We learned a lot about the owner from observing what he left behind. It appears the galley area cabinets were all built by hand. Covers with wooden toggles for each window appear hand-made as well.

Evidence that the owner was a roofer is on board some supplies and manuals.

Briefly, we took a peek at the ship’s log and then set it aside. Someone lived on this boat, playing music, fishing, cooking, dreaming… even notations of yoga sessions are marked in the log books.

We’ll see if we read any further to solve the mystery of the derelict houseboat. It feels intrusive to read someone’s journal, though we do want to know about his adventures.

, Abandoned Houseboat on the St. Johns River // Derelict Vessel Woes // It Sunk at Our Dock

What Little We Know

In the past years, we could hear him running his outboard motor in the mornings, heading to work. Evenings included the sound of the outboard again; returning from work. Occasionally, the sound of a generator irritated us; small penalty for living where we can’t even hear road noise.

What life must have been like on the river – quiet mornings, gentle rocking with spectacular sunrises and sunsets. Wilder times with winds from the Northeast churning up the waves on the St. Johns River, bouncing and bucking on the whitecaps.

Checking crab traps for dinner, and cooking on that small stove must have been very rewarding to eat from his catch. The bedroom had a smallish hard shelf with some foam on it for a bed. Nothing fancy. A tent with screen doors and windows was erected inside the bedroom area. Haven from biting insects.

I can only imagine what it was like to camp out every day on the water, to be all alone, to have time for reading and making music and thoughts.

, Abandoned Houseboat on the St. Johns River // Derelict Vessel Woes // It Sunk at Our Dock

What to Read Next

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SCUBA Diving in Cuba // Pristine Reefs on the North Shore

Planning a Legal Trip to Cuba from the US // Travel Restrictions // Rules for Americans

Cuban Pesos // What We Learned About Exchanging Money in Cuba

, Abandoned Houseboat on the St. Johns River // Derelict Vessel Woes // It Sunk at Our Dock

Great Training Resource

My First Aid and CPR annual course simply did not have enough depth and breadth for the possibilities of a dive boat event. So, I highly recommend the Tactical Casualty Care online course from Crisis Medicine. In fact, I learned so much from the training, that I have been writing a lot about the topics and the training, hoping anyone active outdoors will take responsibility and seek out bleeding control training..

For courses through Crisis Medicine, I’m able to offer you a 20% discount; just use my code, “DeepWH” at checkout for the TC2 course.

, Abandoned Houseboat on the St. Johns River // Derelict Vessel Woes // It Sunk at Our Dock

Sunscreen and Reef-Safe Toiletries

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My Stream2Sea dry bag is the perfect size for all my sunscreen, bathing suit or foundation garments, sunglasses case, a book, and a few other items for excursions to the pool or gym. My discount code “DeepWH” gets you 10% off everything.  Stream2Sea have hand sanitizer, reef-safe sunscreen, leave-in conditioner, lip balm, shampoo, body wash, and even mask defog! Using my link won’t increase you price, and I might receive a small incentive for introducing you to reef-safe sunscreens and more.

, Abandoned Houseboat on the St. Johns River // Derelict Vessel Woes // It Sunk at Our Dock

, Abandoned Houseboat on the St. Johns River // Derelict Vessel Woes // It Sunk at Our Dock
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