The Coral Bay community wasted no time responding when 110-foot, historic schooner Silver Cloud broke off its mooring early Tuesday afternoon, May 1.
The 108-year-old classic Great Lakes Pilot Schooner narrowly avoided major damage when it broke free from its Johnson Bay mooring and grounded on small rocks near the point at Saunders Bay in the middle of a heavy squall.
The sailing vessel was sitting on its mooring, located off shore of Tall Ship Trading Company — also owned by Silver Cloud owner Elliot Hooper — when a storm with heavy rains and winds gusting to about 35 knots passed through the area just before noon.
“The chain parted in the squall,” said Hooper. “It went 15 feet before I even knew it. We swam straight out to it immediately, but when we got out there the boat was already on the beach.”
In what seemed like the blink of an eye, dozens of Coral Bay residents were in action, Hooper explained.
“We had about 75 friends here in five minutes and we started putting anchors out,” he said. “Every available land and sea man in Coral Bay was there. The beauty of St. John is still the people.”
“The response was amazing,” Hooper added.
Luckily, Silver Cloud grounded in a relatively safe location, according to Hooper.
“We were on small rocks, but there were huge boulders within 10 feet on either side,” he said. “It could have been a lot worse.”
Once grounded Silver Cloud was awash in four to five foot seas, which had her swinging from side to side.
“We were bouncing on small rocks on the stern,” said Hooper. “We were in pretty heavy seas with four to five foot swells. We were swinging like you wouldn’t believe.”
With a number of private dinghies on the scene helping to secure anchors from Silver Cloud’s bow and stern, the boat was slowly winched off the rocks.
The U.S. Coast Guard and the V.I. National Park also deployed boats to aid the effort and help keep order. It was the St. Thomas-based salvage boat Sea Tow, however, which finally yanked Silver Cloud to deeper water.
“The boat was coming off slowly with the anchors, but we decided to use Sea Tow to get her off faster,” said Hooper.
No Fuel Discharge or Coral Damage
Once in the safety of deep water — about four hours after she broke off the mooring — USCG officials boarded Silver Cloud and inspected the vessel, Hooper explained.
“There was no fuel discharge and we didn’t hit any coral,” he said. “The Coast Guard declared the boat safe.”
Aside from minor cuts and abrasions no one was injured in the rescue effort and Sea Tow eventually towed Silver Cloud to a safe anchoring site at the head of Coral Harbor.
After diving on the vessel on Wednes-day morning, May 2, a hole in the hull was discovered, according to Hooper.
Hole In Hull
“We found a hole and the boat had taken on a couple thousand gallons of water,” he said. “We plugged the hole so it’s stable now, but I was pumping water out for hours on Wednesday.”
Silver Cloud also suffered damage to her rudder and skag, but repairs can be conducted where she sits, Hooper explained.
“The steering can be fixed where she is and it looks like everything is going to be O.K,” he said. “Had the boat been smaller, either wood or fiberglass, she would have been blown to pieces.”
Coral Bay community members came through when Hooper needed them most, the thankful boat owner reiterated.
Thanks To Community
“I really want to thank the community,” said Hooper. “I want to thank everyone who helped both physically and emotionally. It’s actually a really good ending considering what could have happened.”
The last time Silver Cloud suffered major damage was in 1995 when the vessel was thrown on the Coral Bay shoreline during Hurricane Marilyn. Then too the community rallied, and with the help of a number of residents — and a bulldozer — the schooner was eventually pushed off the rocks and towed to deep water.