A 40-ton barge washed up on St. Pete Beach after early morning storms Monday

Published July 24 2018
Updated July 24 2018

The Taylor family from New Castle, England, rushed to the water after checking in at the Postcard Inn on St. Pete Beach on Monday afternoon.

A sign on the front desk had warned them about the rusty orange cargo carrier that was sitting on the beach right in front of the hotel. Tony Taylor, his wife and their son saw it immediately.

How could they have possibly missed it? It’s 200 feet long, 40 feet wide and 8 feet tall.

"It’s weird," 11-year-old Drew Taylor said, wrinkling his nose and pointing at the massive barge.

"It’s unfortunate," said 49-year-old Tony Taylor, looking down at his son. "But not too much. We can just walk a little further and enjoy the beach there."

The steel-plate carrier that weighs about 40 tons washed ashore sometime early Monday after a storm churned up waves of five to seven feet. The force of the waves broke ropes holding two barges together offshore. One of them floated toward the beach, grounding in the shallow surf and creating opportunities for a different kind of postcard.

Seven barges float off St. Pete Beach currently, and they’re mainly full of rocks. They belong to Luhr Bros Inc., an Illinois-based company that the state of Florida contracted to stop beach erosion, said Tony Miller, a barge hand and security guard.

The Luhr Bros. project employs a crew of nine men, including crane operators, boat pilots and engineers. The workers have been arriving at the beach at about 5:30 a.m. every day since May to get the machinery running.

When the sun rises at about 6:30 a.m., they begin lifting rocks of different sizes and shapes, and positioning them to create a barrier. Their goal is to trap sand and keep it from washing away.

But before they can get the rocks in place, they remove bags full of fiberglass, which is what had previously been there to prevent erosion. That’s why some of the barges are full of rocks and foundation mass, while others are full of fiberglass and debris. The one that got away had a partial load of about 25 tons.

The crew started the project last year, working from March to December. They came back in May and plan to finish the project in mid August, Miller said.

When he noticed one of the barges had run aground Monday, Miller said he thought to himself: "Well, we got a problem."

The men quickly tied a rope from the barge to a bulldozer on the beach, anchoring it. They plan to wait until the water calms down and then tow it back into the water using two motor boats. Miller said it will most likely be sometime Tuesday morning.

"I got a damn good crew," Miller said. "We’ll get it out of everyone’s hair real soon."

All day Monday, Miller stood under the sun in his denim overalls, asking beachgoers to step away from the barge and to walk as far away from the rope as possible.

In the morning, two women who appeared to be in their 20s tried to play with the barge. Miller said he heard one of them challenge the other to touch it.

"I dare you," the woman said.

The other took up the offer, trotting to the carrier.

"Do you hate life that much?" Miller told her. "If that line breaks, it can snap your head out."

Miller said he "chewed that girl’s butt for doing that."

The 50-year-old, who has been working in the business for 23 years, said barges don’t get ripped away too often.

But when these accidents do happen, he said they’re an inconvenience. The mishap Monday prompted a few St. Pete police and Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office patrol cars to stop by the beach.

Miller said he also got a call from the U.S. Coast Guard checking on what the company’s preventive measures had been. Miller told them his crew used six lines to secure the barges, running each one about six times around hitches.

Tourists also stopped to chat with Miller, wondering what happened.

Troy Motes of Las Vegas said he’s been vacationing in St. Pete Beach for about 25 years and had never seen a barge onshore.

"It’s kind of cool to see it up close," the 54-year-old said. "It made our vacation more fun."