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Monday, July 15, 2024


Diver Offers Scenario for Lady Mary Sinking


By Jack Fichter

CAPE MAY — The following is a possible scenario for the Lady Mary sinking offered by Harold Moyers, who made two dives with his team to the wreck 210 feet below the surface.
The investigation has yet to be completed, and the U.S. Coast Guard has not offered any scenarios for the March 24 marine accident that claimed six lives.
Possible scenario from Moyers, based on seeing the Lady Mary on the ocean floor, and initial testimony of the Marine Board of Investigations: Around 5 a.m. or shortly thereafter the Cap Beatrice struck the aft port corner of the Lady Mary. The collision was softened by the bow wake the ship put forward of her path.
The long protruding bulbous bow made contact with the rudder of the Lady Mary just below the transom. The rudder was knocked from its mounting flange and driven against the propeller shaft.
This action deposited blue rudder paint on to the shaft hub as it bent the five-inch shaft down at a hard angle. In the process, the impact also bent the cutlass bearing holding the shaft.
The shoe protruding from the skeg was also knocked from the vessel. In the wallowing seas the Lady Mary was driven down in the stem as it pushed ahead of the large vessel. A second contact stove in the Lady Mary’s stern ramp.
This collision would be not unlike the freighter Florida’s collision with FV Dictator 22 days later. In that case the large stern step on which the Dictator’s CORT nozzle was attached prevented the rudder from fully detaching. The sharp edges of this strong structural member holed the Florida’s bow.
In the Lady Mary case, the rudder shielded the Cap Beatrice bow from the sharp point of the prop shaft.
In the Dictator collision, the Florida never knew (or denied knowing) a collision took place. Only by happenstance that a fishing vessel equipped with automatic identification system was able to identify the Florida was her identity known. After multiple denied requests, the Florida finally stopped.
On board the Lady Mary the collision caused instant panic. The captain yelled what was reported as the following: “Mayday, mayday, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Coast Guard.” The voice was described by Horatio Beck of the fishing vessel Good News as “shrill, distorted, screaming.”
Beck pegs the time as 5 a.m. He relates that the call was answered by a “Yankee boat” with roughly the following, “come back, what’s your emergency, speak clearly so as to be understood, or else we can’t help you.”
There was no reply to the “Yankee” boats call. This reaffirmed in Beck’s (as well as everyone else’s) mind that the call was a prank. The call was not what one would expect. No vessel name was given.
The “Yankee” boat reported the garbled message 11 hours later. Beck never heard the Coast Guard “PAN, PAN” message that was broadcast that morning. The crew of the Cap Beatrice also never reported a distress call.
The damage to the Lady Mary was extensive. The lazerette, a storage compartment in the stern, was holed, rudder disabled, propulsion disabled, and large amounts of water flooded the fish hold as well as the lazerette. She did not however suffer immediate mortal damage.
In the case of the Dictator, the crew reported the deck swamped with water and the crew assumed she was going down right then. The Dictator recovered her buoyancy. The Lady Mary probably also recovered her buoyancy to some degree.
She retained a list to port do to the flooding and a dredge over the port side on the bottom (the Dictator also had a dredge on the bottom).
The Lady Mary crew may have felt some relief. She wasn’t going to be run over by the now well-cleared freighter. Her flooded deck had recovered some. But the crew knew they had to get the dredge on deck.
With a partially swamped boat in the high seas (and no control), laying on the dredge could kill them yet. Bringing in the dredge occupied the crew.
At this time Tim Smith probably woke Jose Pena (in the case of the Dictator a crewmember had slept through the collision). Pena, the sole survivor of the accident, made his way to the bridge on a listing vessel. He reported the dredge in the water.
He climbed the starboard ladder to the platform behind the bridge and simply froze for what he reported to be 10 minutes. In the stern, it can be surmised that the crew’s efforts to raise the dredge were hampered by a broken port stay wire. The stay wire ran from the top of the gallows to the bottom corner of the ramp. Gallows are heavy iron frames on the side of the boat, one fore and one aft.
Both port and starboard stay wires were broken, but the port side was threaded through a 20-foot length of stainless steel pipe.
In the sea conditions this wire became a swinging club. A crewmember tied the broken wire off to the gallows (as it is today on the bottom of the ocean floor.) The dredge could now be dealt with.
During this time Pena described pandemonium. Crewmembers yelling (he didn’t know what they were saying) and in a general state of panic. During this time the dredge was probably brought onto the deck but the desired correction of the list wasn’t realized.
Successive waves rolling up the deck continued the flooding. A strong possibility exists that the roll of the boat and slamming from impact forced the starboard outrigger up and aft. Its position on the wreck shows the outrigger vertical and behind it’s cradle. An outrigger in this position would greatly alter the Lady Mary’s center of gravity.
Royal Smith Jr. (Bobo) in a panic state, made a satellite phone call at 5:17 a.m. He dialed his girlfriend’s home number, possibly one of the few numbers he knew in his head. His father Royal Smith Sr., was in Cape May and could only be reached by his cell phone. Royal Smith Jr. (Bobo) may have had to have look up that number.
He therefore dialed a number he knew. He may also have believed he had gotten off an adequate mayday.
Pena reported in his testimony that he could see boat lights close by. They may have felt help was coming. The remaining time was used by Tim, Bobo, and Pena to don survival suits.
That operation can typically be accomplished in about a minute. Pena reported difficulty due to the sea state and the fishing vessel’s port list. As Pena stepped off the Lady Mary, water had risen to the height of the bridge deck on the port side.
Water rapidly poured into the fish hold and engine room and began righting her on the way to the bottom.
The Lady Mary sits on the port side at roughly a 20-degree list in 210 feet of water.
The entire episode from collision to sinking may have taken as long as a half hour.

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