July 9, 2001 – Efforts to refloat the St. John-built ketch Breath are under way in the southern Bahamas, where the 42-foot sailboat ran aground in the darkness early in the morning of the Fourth of July.
Breath was built and captained by long-time St. John resident Peter Muilenburg. He attributed the mishap to an unusually strong current combined with squally winds and rough seas. He was on his way to Jacksonville, Fla., with a stop in the Dominican Republic.
In a telephone conversation after the accident, Muilenburg told his good friend, fellow sailor and St. John businessman Terry McKoy that he was sailing with his wife, Dorothy; his father, John; and two crewmen, Miska Fuchs and Steve Baranowski, when they ran aground on a reef in the southern Bahamian islands. No one was injured, he told McKoy, and all five were able to walk across the coral reef to safety.
Royal Bahamian Defense Force personnel rescued Muilenburg and his crew after sunrise and transported them the 40 miles to Matthew Town on the island of Great Inagua.
The purpose of Muilenburg's phone call was to ask his St. John neighbors to help him persuade the U.S. Coast Guard to help pull Breath off the reef before it was too late. McKoy says he immediately called on St. John sailor George Courlas and ham radio operator George Cline for assistance.
"We found out that the Coast Guard is restricted by international treaties from engaging in salvage operations," McKoy said. "We were concerned that if Peter didn't get a commercial salvage operator, he might lose the boat." Courlas and Cline did some hustling, found the Bahamian Salvage Company of Rum Cay and got the firm in touch with Muilenburg. After a hasty aerial inspection, it was agreed that the 20-ton gaff-rigged vessel could be successfully salvaged from its position, resting upright on its keel and hard-aground on a remote reef.
Meanwhile, McKoy went looking for and found a loan (from an anonymous lender) of the $14,000 needed to cover the expected costs of patching, refloating, towing and repairing the sailboat. He plans to repay the loan with contributions from the St. John community.
"Peter never asked for any money," McKoy said. "The loan and the fund-raising was our idea. We knew that if we put out an appeal, many people would respond."
Contributions to the "Refloat Breath" effort are being placed in the St. John Revolving Fund, according to fund administrator Cidney Hamling. "Under these unusual circumstances," she said, "the fund's board of directors approved this method" to help McKoy, Courlas and Cline collect contributions to repay the loan.
Checks can be made out to the St. John Revolving Fund marked "Refloat Breath" and addressed to "Refloat Breath" c/o Connections, PO Box 37, St. John VI 00831-0037.


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