Nautical eyesore removed from Southbank

Nautical eyesore removed from Southbank


Thanks to the generosity of a NASCAR racecar driver, the sunken Lady St. Johns, a derelict party boat, is no longer an eyesore on the river landscape in the view of many Southbank residents.

Ray Black, Jr., owner of Blacksmith Marine Corporation – Offshore, supplied a crane pro bono and spent four days raising the Lady St. Johns from its muddy resting place alongside the Southbank Riverwalk near the Chart House Restaurant.

SinkingShip_04Black began the task of removal on Dec. 11, finally towing the abandoned vessel four days later to an undisclosed location where it will be cleaned up and eventually taken into the ocean to become a reef, said Black’s father, Ray Black, Sr., in a telephone interview.

Black Jr., a NASCAR driver who races in the Xfinity series, lives in Flagler Beach and owns the marine salvage company, which he operates during the months when he is not racing the circuit. According to his father, Blacksmith Marine did the work for free after it was contacted by the city.

“The city reached out to us, and we donated our time to the city to clean it up,” said the elder Ray Black. “It was a real community effort – a partnership between the city, us and the reef community. The city asked for my son’s help, and he did it. We originally thought with the crane it would take a day, but it ended up taking four because there were so many hull holes. The boat was in pretty bad shape,” he said. “We honor our word, and we did it. We always do what we say we’re going to do, even if it takes us a month,” Black, Sr. said. “You have a really good mayor in Jacksonville. His office reached out to us to solve the problem, and everybody came forward to help.”

The TISIRI (Think It, Sink It, Reef It) Corporation of Jacksonville has been contacted about the fate of the craft, said Joe Kistel of TISIRI. “The fate of the vessel has not been determined as of yet,” he said. “We have been part of the conversations but have no information we can share as of yet. Perhaps we will have more info early next year.”

Southbank residents notified city

Tied up to a Southbank Riverwalk city dock near the Chart House Restaurant for many months, the Lady St. Johns first began listing in its berth alongside its sister ship, the Annabelle Lee, in July. By early September, it was listing even more, said Hank Werner, who had a bird’s eye view of both abandoned vessels from his 32nd-floor balcony in The Peninsula.

Concerned, Werner said he contacted both the Coast Guard and the City multiple times about the situation, which looked to be serious from his vantage point. By the end of September the boat had sunk, spilling more than 100 gallons of diesel fuel into the river, and requiring a speedy clean-up by the United States Coast Guard and Department of Environmental Protection, who put absorbing booms around the vessel to soak up the fuel.

SinkingShip_02“I saw the boat listing in July and I called the Coast Guard and City Hall and then I emailed the City Council,” said Werner, who contacted District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer about the problem. “Two weeks later it sank. It would have been cheaper to get rid of it when it was floating. That crew spent four days digging it up.”

Werner was not the only Southbank resident to contact Boyer about the problem. Many Southbank residents emailed her to express concern. Dr. Allyn Strickland, who lives in The Peninsula, wrote Boyer questioning when the “pollution source and eyesore for the Riverwalk” was going to be removed.

“I’m very upset about it. The city already told us it would gone and it wasn’t,” said Judy Sigman, a resident of The Peninsula, the day before the Lady St. Johns was raised. “It looks like people are living in it. I’ve seen indigent people go in and out,” she said.

Boyer said she contacted many city departments, including the Office of the General Counsel, to find a solution to the problem. “Here we have an expensive development. The city spent $18 million on the Riverwalk, and this is an eyesore that needs to be removed,” Boyer said when asked about the situation Dec. 3. “We don’t want the Riverwalk to look like derelict shipyards.”

According the city spokesperson Marsha Oliver, the Lady St. Johns and Annabelle Lee are the property of River Cruises Inc., a San Marco-based company owned by Dane Lucas, a well-known Jacksonville businessman.

In a telephone interview, Lucas said he had River Cruises, Inc. for 30 years but sold the business on a lease-to-own basis some time ago. His tenant neglected the boats, and when he stopped paying rent, Lucas was forced to take the business and the boats back. He has subsequently “closed” the business. The Lady St. Johns sank after Lucas took back the business, he said.

Dock rental for each boat to be tied up at the Southbank Riverwalk city dock is $800 per month, said Tia Ford, a spokesperson for the city. “The monthly rent is paid in full through June 2015 with River Cruises Inc. currently owing $9,600 in docking fees to the City of Jacksonville for both boats,” she wrote in an email.

Oliver said the city expects Lucas, as the current owner of record, to pay for the outstanding fees. The Annabelle Lee is still tied up to the city dock and is still accruing fees, she said. The dock rental bill was sent out Dec. 17, Oliver said.

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News
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