1. Tampa

What's up with that half-sunk boat by the Howard Frankland Bridge?

A boat has been run aground just south of the Howard Frankland bridge for about a month.
A boat has been run aground just south of the Howard Frankland bridge for about a month.
Published Nov. 30, 2018

TAMPA — For the past month, a white wooden boat has sat grounded, half-sunk, tilted at a 30-degree angle, just south of the Howard Frankland Bridge approaching Tampa.

It looks like a nice boat, Moonraker II stamped across the back in blue lettering.

Arnold Hubbard, 61, lives in a large house right on the water on Mariner Street, which stretches out to the Tampa Bay Marina. The boat rests about 20 yards from the end of the private dock on the property at the end of the street. Well-kept houses line the quiet neighborhood, which Hubbard describes as a hidden "little piece of heaven."

Hubbard says the boat's placement is obtrusive and awkward — it's clearly visible to cars traveling across the bridge near the West Shore exit.

"It's foolish for the owner to park it on the rocks, half sunk, and it's definitely not good for the environment or property owners who have to look at it," Hubbard said. "We don't want to be known as the boat dumping grounds."

Mariner Street resident Brier Grieves, 54, said he's surprised an abandoned boat can just lie there for weeks without anyone doing anything about it. There are manatees and dolphins and turtle grass in the marina, Grieves said. Rock jetties were constructed several years back to protect the shoreline and prevent erosion.

"The marine patrol goes by there every day. I'm just amazed it's still sitting there," Grieves said.

The U.S. Coast Guard recognizes the Moonraker II as a derelict boat. But it's not resting in navigable waterways and isn't posing a hazard, so the Coast Guard isn't required to take action under federal law, according to Michael De Nyse, a spokesman with the Coast Guard.

So who owns the boat? Grieves said he could reach the man.

Turns out Joey Sirmans, 45, owns the boat, a 40-foot Sports Fisher. The veteran and South Tampa native said he apologizes if its presence has caused anyone grief.

Sirmans owns a tree service business and says he bought the boat six months ago as a project — a fixer-upper for him, his wife and their nine children, ages 2 to 23. ("I had a kid every time I came home from deployment," he said.)

"We did without Christmas for a few years to buy this boat that could fit us all," he said.

Sirmans had it parked in the marina, but about a month ago tried to move it over to Jean Street Shipyard, so that he could do some repairs on the engine. But only one motor was working, and the small boat he borrowed to tow it wasn't strong enough. Moonraker II started to lag mid journey, and Sirmans left it grounded there by the bridge, sinking, while he tried to figure out how to move it and where to get the funds to do it.

Sirmans said he's aware the boat's placement "looks really awkward," but thinks the boat itself looks "beautifully neat."

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission works to identify and remove derelict vessels from public waters, and provides grants to cities to help with removals, according to spokesman Robert Klepper. There are about 370 derelict vessel cases active statewide.

Sirmans said he's been in touch with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The agency warned him that his boat could be considered a derelict vessel, but said they could work with him if he made steady progress toward moving it, and as long as there is no gasoline leakage, according to Sirmans.

It could cost upward of $2,400 to hire a company to move Moonraker II, so instead, Sirmans bought another boat to tow it away. He said it will probably take at least six hours to pump out the water and then haul the boat. He plans to try this weekend. When it's complete, he'll sell the second boat and get some of the money back.

While Moonraker II has been sitting there, it's been vandalized, and the steering wheel and chairs were stolen from it.

"The story is a tragedy, but maybe the end will have a good spin," Sirmans said.