`Houdini' raised from Annapolis waters

Sailboat wrecked by Isabel had sunk in Spa Creek

August 31, 2004|By Molly Knight | Molly Knight,SUN STAFF

ABOUT 10 A.M. — A ghostly sight hung over the Annapolis harbor yesterday.

About 10 a.m. - against a backdrop of bulging gray storm clouds - a tall yellow crane lifted the hull of a sunken ship from Spa Creek near the Naval Academy's USS Maine Memorial.

Using four cables attached to a nylon sling, the crane tugged cautiously at the sea-worn sailboat Houdini, which had smashed into the academy's seawall during Tropical Storm Isabel almost a year ago and has remained an eyesore and a safety hazard.

What emerged - inch by inch - looked more like a specter than a sunken sailboat.

Covered from bow to stern with brown and green slime, the boat's 43-foot fiberglass body surfaced intact except for the starboard side, which the water had broken open.

Suspended on its side in the air, the 22,000-pound Houdini - with cables and sailcloth hanging off its deck - dripped like a wet towel.

"It's pretty ugly-looking," said Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, one of at least 30 onlookers, some of them watching from boats moored in the harbor.

The removal, led by a crew of more than 40 from the U.S. Naval Station, Annapolis, was engineered by Greg Barnhill, a Baltimore County resident who spotted the unsightly wreck while sailing with friends.

Barnhill, chairman of Ocean Race Chesapeake, host of the 2006 Volvo Ocean Race to Annapolis, brought to an end a nearly yearlong standoff between the boat's owner, Bruce Ekstrand, and officials with the city, state and Naval Academy over responsibility for removing the Houdini.

Barnhill - a partner in Brown Advisory, a Baltimore investment management firm - offered to foot the bill for disposal of the ship and to auction off its parts to raise money for the nonprofit organizations Ocean Race Chesapeake, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Annapolis Maritime Museum.

The Naval Academy's Public Works Department paid for the $10,500 removal by crane.

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