Liveaboards Spring into Action When a Boat Catches Fire at Port Ludlow Marina

“There’s a fire in the marina!” Lisa shouted down to me at roughly 8:30 a.m. on April 29, 2020. While that is a sentence you definitely never want to hear as a liveaboard, I can assure you there is no faster way to get adrenaline pumping through the body. As she was still in her robe and I was in sweats, we quickly dressed, grabbed a couple fire extinguishers and ran down our dock to the source of the smoke.

Kevin Ritz was first on the scene.
Liveaboard Kevin Ritz was first on the scene.

We immediately realized the extinguishers weren’t going to help, as flames were licking out the starboard engine room vents on a very nice looking Tollycraft 43. Fellow liveaboard Kevin Ritz, Marine Systems Lead Instructor at the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building, was already there with his wife Sheryl, spraying water on the flames with a hose. Immediately, our next concern turned to the two neighboring boats (thankfully, the shared slip space next to the burning boat was empty).

Fast Response Saves Rapid Spread

The unfortunately well-known worst-case marina fire scenario rushed through our minds. From everything we’ve read and seen, once a fiberglass boat catches on fire, it can become fully engulfed within minutes. We worried if that happened, the fire could jump to neighboring boats and rapidly spread up and down the dock. Smoke was now billowing out of other vents and hatches, even coming out of the windlass on the foredeck! Bravely, Kevin continued to direct the water onto the growing flames. We think his determined actions more than likely kept the boat from burning to the waterline and potentially causing much more damage.

The combination of liveaboard response and the quick arrive of firefighters prevented a bigger disaster.
The combination of liveaboard response and the quick arrival of firefighters prevented a bigger disaster. Photo courtesy of Derald Munce.

Within minutes (it seemed like forever!) the Port Ludlow Fire Department arrived. While they began setting up the industrial gas-powered seawater pump, four of us (liveaboard neighbor Jon Lang, D-dock liveaboard Max, Lisa and I) moved the boat moored directly in front of the burning vessel down the outside linear dock and out of danger. By this time, the fire department had the high-volume seawater pump running and concentrating a strong stream of water onto the flames and into the engine room.

Ric Reynolds, jet ski tow boat driver extraordinaire.
Ric Reynolds, jet ski tow boat driver extraordinaire.

More Liveaboards Lend a Hand, a Dinghy, and a Jet Ski

Worried about potential propane and gas explosions, and not knowing if the fire would be contained, we then decided to move the nice American Tug that shared a finger pier with the Tolly. Another fellow liveaboard, Rick Reynolds (who, along with wife Deborah live just two boats down from the boat on fire!), volunteered to get on his jet ski and pull the tug over to a vacant slip on another dock. Jon, Lisa and I let loose the tug’s docklines while firemen bashed in the main cabin windows on the Tolly’s port side in order to gain access. As a side note, Jon and I are now very impressed with Tollycraft’s build quality, as the fireman could not kick in the sliding door’s glass window. They brought him an axe, and even then, it took multiple strikes before the glass broke and eventually shattered. This boat was not easy to break into!

Pat and Corrine Sharp aided in moving the American Tug.
Pat and Corrine Sharp aided in moving the American Tug.

Rick snugged his Seadoo up to the transom of the American Tug and Jon secured an aft dock line to the stern cleat on the jet ski. Rick then pulled the boat clear of the slip and out into the fairway. He ended up pulling the boat around full circle so people on the dock could catch a stern line and pull the vessel in. Captain Pat Sharpe and his wife Corinne showed up in a dinghy to help keep the bow of the tug in position. At this point, there were dozens of boat owners on the scene, many of whom had started their engines in the event fire spread to other boats.

Port Ludlow Fire Rescue team had to break windows to gain access.
Port Ludlow Fire Rescue team had to break windows to gain access.

Post-Crisis Calm and Gratitude

Much to everyone’s relief, the fire was declared under control by the fire department within minutes . They began to remove all flammable objects: cushions, pillows, chairs, table, etc. from the stricken vessel.

“Because of the fast response from our liveaboard community, a complete disaster was evaded.” Wrote Kori Ward, Port Ludlow Marina Manager, in an email to all marina tenants. In her 28 years at the marina, she’d never had to deal with her biggest fear – a boat fire. “You all knew exactly what to do! While 911 was being called, a liveaboard tenant began fighting the fire with a hose. As more of you became aware of the incident, you jumped in to assist. Surrounding boats were towed to safer moorings, and the fire department was directed to the location. If it wasn’t for your fast action, we could have lost numerous vessels and potentially lives.”

In retrospect, it all seemed to happen so terribly fast. But by 10:00 a.m., with things firmly under control, Lisa had us to put everything we had on in the dirty clothes and take a cleansing shower. By 2:00 p.m., TowBoatUS was on hand. And by 2:30, the poor boat was towed out of the marina and on its way to Port Townsend. Other than the arrival of 50mph winds that afternoon, things returned to normal in the marina.

Liveaboards are the eyes and ears of the marina.
Liveaboards are the eyes and ears of the marina. Thank you, liveaboards!

Liveaboard Heroes

We are all so fortunate that fellow liveaboards Max, Kevin, and Sheryl essentially spotted smoke at the same time from different vantage points. Had Max not happened to look up as he stepped up into his pilothouse, or had Kevin and Sheryl not been heading for shore from their own boat, who knows how bad things could have gone.

As Kori signed off in her email to all marina tenants, “Next time you see a liveaboard strolling the docks, be sure to say Thank You… They are our eyes, ears, security, and at times heroes at the marina.”

Title background photo courtesy of Derald Munce.