On Monday morning we received an email alerting us to a sailboat explosion in Sausalito. It was rumored to have occurred at Pelican Yacht Harbor. A quick phone call to harbormaster Janet Erickson, who said she had been inundated with calls, revealed that the explosion was actually on a boat anchored in Richardson Bay, not at the marina.
Erickson said that although she couldn’t see the source of the explosion, she did experience the resulting percussion while standing on her own boat. “It sounded like a hunk of wood had hit the hull,” she said. “It was loud!” She later witnessed a person being wheeled up the ramp and talking to the paramedics in attendance.
We later received a report from Curtis Havel, harbormaster for the Richardson’s Bay Regional Agency (RBRA), confirming that the explosion had occurred on the Richardson Bay anchorage in the early evening last Sunday. Havel said while both Southern Marin Fire Protection District (SMFPD) and the US Coast Guard (USCG) responded to the distress call, they were yet to provide a formal incident report.
According to Havel’s email the explosion occurred on an approximately 35-ft sailing vessel named Folie Douce, which was at the time occupied by a man believed to be a Mr. Mark Culver. The SMFPD and USCG were able to extract Mr. Culver before the vessel sank. “Mr. Culver was very lucky and survived with only minor injuries/burns — it is my understanding that Mr. Culver is currently in the hospital,” Havel wrote.
Havel said the explosion was likely to have been caused by a propane leak. “Propane leaks are one of a mariner’s greatest fears. Propane is heavier than air and tends to pool in the bilge of a vessel. If a spark reaches the pooled-up propane, it effectively acts as a bomb. This is likely what happened to the Folie Douce.”
Following the explosion, Folie Douce sank on her anchorage. Havel added that “the explosion likely damaged the vessel beyond any chance of repair without extraordinary financial effort.”
“Although it was an accident, it is the responsibility of the vessel owner to arrange for retrieval and disposal of the vessel. I’ve made attempts to reach the vessel owner to ascertain their plans for retrieval and clean up, but none of the contact methods have been successful.”
Currently the sunken vessel is a navigational hazard, and a threat to the environment due to the presence of fuels, engine oil and other hazardous materials. Havel wrote that in the event of Mr. Culver’s failing to take responsibility for his vessel, he has initiated summary abatement proceedings to remove the vessel as soon as possible. In this case the RBRA will organize professional salvors to retrieve the vessel at their earliest convenience and tow it to the Army Corps of Engineers debris yard, where it will be surveyed and disposed of properly.
Havel noted that Folie Douce was on the anchorage prior to the vessel census of August 2019, and that she was was inoperable and not a part of the Safe and Seaworthy Program.