By Jim Furneaux
Special to St. John Tradewinds
Above: Two tow boats and lots of manpower were required to refloat Phgawee in Chocolate Hole last fall. Below: Chris Einstein guides Phgawee to the start line at Two brother’s rocks in this year’s Around St. John race.
The saga of Phgawee’s triumph from beached and severely damaged storm victim to winner of its class in this year’s Around St. John Race is a story of the perils boaters face here from tropical storms and the St. John spirit of pitching in to help a fellow resident in trouble.
Local contractor Chris Einstein and his wife Cynthia “CJ” Berger-Einstein, the owners of the 1971 30’ Columbia vessel, discussed the decisions which led them to keep Phgawee in Chocolate Hole before Tropical Storm Otto and the amazing response of the community to refloat her.
Otto surprised boaters with the result of many boats on the south shore going on the beach or rocks and being severely damaged and in some cases destroyed. The following is in Chris Enstein’s own words:
We spent Hurricane Earl in Hurricane Hole on the chains but had to leave when the park closed the moorings. I heard about Otto, but it wasn’t supposed to hit us directly. I went out, secured the boat and made a real bad decision to stay in Chocolate Hole on my mooring.
We put out two anchors and figured with them and the mooring, the storm would blow right through. When I heard the surf at 10 p.m. that night I really regretted that decision. Morning found Phgawee on the beach. Four other boats were there as well and two boats had simply disintegrated. People were in shock.
I knew I was responsible to get my boat off the beach but I was facing a five foot star shaped hole to starboard and a four foot hole — ironically shaped like a smile — to port. The interior was trashed. My first thought was to patch her enough so I could drag her out and sink her.
But we decided to try and save her. We got her up using jacks and dunnage. Then a week later another blow came in and the dunnage washed away, but she was left perfectly vertical with her fin keel buried two feet into the sand. This was helpful but we still had plenty of work to do. In addition to the holes, the rudder was bent 40 degrees and the tiller was broken. It was a mess.
During the next three weeks, friends and I patched her and then it was time to try to refloat her. Fifteen people showed up. On the first try our towboat didn’t show, but everyone grabbed their shovels and cleaned up the beach. We put many piles of trash in the parking lot and later the Chocolate Hole Association and I trucked it out of there.
Finally Dan Boyd showed up with his boat Patches and Tom Bertolino fired up his boat Kahuna and they put out lines to tow Phgawee off the beach. We had plenty of manpower on the beach and had laid down planking to skid the boat over. I am so thankful for Steve Deisher, Jeff Corkin, my wife Cynthia and the many others who helped.
We spent a month in the boatyard and came back to Chocolate Hole. We entered the Around St. John Race not knowing we’d be competitive but just to see how she’d do. My advice after this is to pay more attention to the weather.