Family wakes to find boat sunk on Christmas Day

Christmas morning is supposed to be a time of warmth, cheer and uplifted spirits. Unfortunately, for one Wrangell family, it was a morning where their spirits sank.

Along with their boat.

Benn Curtis, his wife Shirley Wimberley and their son Rolland Wimberley were enjoying the start to their day on Dec. 25 when they discovered their family boat submerged.

"We were just sitting around and (Rolland) looks out and says, 'At least it's a white Christmas.'" Shirley Wimberley said. "I was thinking it was supposed to rain Christmas Eve, so I was thinking it was just going to be yucky, and the rain held off. Then he says, 'The dock. The dock!' And I go, 'What about the dock?' It was a shock."

Their 1985, 28-foot Glasply boat, the Tobica, was almost completely submerged at the Reliance float. Only the bow was sticking out of the icy water, like a porpoise waiting for a treat at SeaWorld.

They reckon the TOBICA went down pretty quick because of the damage it did to the float on its way down. "We would have noticed if it was starting to sink," Shirley said. "People have been going down to the dock."

No one was hurt during the incident, but the manner in which the boat sank and lifted the float caused Reme Privett's boat nearby to list, taking on some water. Someone had called him and he was able to get the boat out of harm's way.

The TOBICA was bought from its original owner in 1986 in Juneau when the owner had taken ill and couldn't afford the boat anymore, Curtis said. In fact, the seller told them TOBICA stood for "This old boat I can't afford."

"We changed it to 'The only boat I care about,' because we didn't want to change the name," Shirley said. "Which isn't true because we care about other people's boats."

When crews tried to raise the boat, it couldn't be done, so they had to let it sink to the bottom before attaching buoys to it at low tide. When the tide came in, they were able to raise the boat, get it above water and tow it over to the Reliance dock.

"Due to the ice and everything on the boat-launch ramps, they (couldn't) take it out," Curtis said. "They have no traction. They (could) put it on a trailer, but they (couldn't) get it out." Instead, the boat will be raised out of the water by the borough's travel lift.

Dave Miller, owner of Dave's Welding, said it was probably the boat's sea strainer that froze and broke. A sea strainer filters sea water that the boat then uses to cool the engine.

Although the family hasn't used the boat very much over the past few years due to balance problems Curtis suffers from, they did take it out this summer when they took family and friends to Anan during the Fourth of July holiday.

Shirley said they won't know the extent of the damage until Miller has a chance to inspect the vessel. However, she believes it's not repairable.

"The whole back end is shot, the kicker has been broken off," she said. "It's an inboard (motor), so all the props and rudders and swim step are gone. The whole back end is crushed. Dave is hoping he'll be able to salvage the engines, but with it completely submerged, all the electronics are gone, all the cushions and anything else."

The boat's trolling motor remains at the bottom of the harbor.

Curtis said one plus is that the engines and transmission should be salvageable, so those items could be sold.

As for getting another boat, Shirley and Rolland are thinking of a smaller, more versatile boat, possibly a jet boat with a cabin they can take upriver for fishing.


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