CORTEZ -- With the roar of the gasoline powered pumps sucking thousands of gallons of sea water per hour from its compartments, the 146-year-old red and black schooner San Francesco finally rose from the briny depths of Sarasota Bay Wednesday to once again float next to the Seafood Shack Marina, Bar & Grill in Cortez, where it has been moored the last 13 months.
But the 70-foot sailboat which sank early Sunday in a rainstorm and whose name means "patron saint of sailors" has fallen into a "desperate situation," said one of its caretakers.
Rick Stewart, president of the Cortez Classic Yacht Club, which is working to become a non-profit organization to buy the boat, on Wednesday said its centuries old pine has shrunk, causing gaps in the hull which has permitted water to come in faster than it can be pumped out.
The vessel has become adored by passing motorists on Cortez Bridge who snap photos and by patrons of the Seafood Shack who call it "the pirate ship" since the new owner of Seafood Shack, John Vandyk of Canada, welcomed it in December 2014, two months after Vandyk purchased the restaurant.
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To restore the vessel will first require it to be towed through a tricky
waterway to N.E. Taylor Boatworks in Cortez, where the masts will be removed and the boat lifted out and placed in dry dock, a transfer that could cost upward of $20,000, Stewart said.
"Our 501c3 is about two months away which will allow us to obtain funds from contributors and give them a tax certificate," Stewart said. "But right now I will plead to the public for donations and help. We need approximately $20,000 to get her from here to where she will sit for three years and be reconstructed. This sinking really expedited this problem. It's a matter of desperation at this point."
Don't think about donating and having the San Francesco renamed for your wife or daughter, however, Stewart said.
"Absolutely not," Stewart said. "You don't change the name of a boat. That's the worst thing you can do. That's bad luck. I don't think that would be right. That was the original name back in 1870."
The most current sinking was because of an electrical failure that stopped the pumps, Stewart said.
"At some point during the night of that terrible storm power was interrupted and so were the electric pumps we have been using to maintain her for six months," Stewart said. "Once the power failed there was nothing we could do."
A glamorous history
Stewart and his partner, Cortez Classic Yacht Club treasurer Herman Kruegle of Longboat Key and New Jersey, say the San Francesco was built in 1870 in Italy as a cargo ship, Stewart said.
"It was built to carry Italian granite and marble to various ports all over the Mediterranean," Stewart said.
After the steamship came into existence, which was much larger and could carry more cargo, the San Francesco fell to the wayside as a carrier. "She began running contraband, including ivory, wine, guns, whatever was black market at the time," Stewart said.
In 1918, the boat was confiscated by the Queen's Royal Navy and was impounded in a British Naval yard, Stewart said.
"She sat there a number of years and then, lo and behold, she was purchased by a wealthy Italian family, which put a million dollars into her and converted her from a cargo ship to a private yacht," Stewart said.
The San Francesco then sailed the world a number of years as a luxury yacht and took her last ocean voyage in 2007, Stewart said.
"She pulled into Aruba (off the coast of Venezuela) where she was taken out of the water and had extensive repairs," Stewart said. "All the standing rigging with the exception of the mast was replaced then."
The San Francesco then sailed on to Jamaica, Cuba and Key West and, in 2008, ultimately landed in Clearwater, where she fell into significant disrepair and sank, Stewart said.
"It was originally put on the market in the Tampa Bay area for $250,000," Kruegle said. "Then it was reduced to $175,000 and no one was willing to purchase it. There are not many wooden boats in this area of that size and there are not many boatyards available to restore such a boat."
Kruegle said he didn't want to reveal the financial details.
After getting the boat, Stewart and Kruegle decided to bring it from Clearwater to Cortez in December 2014 to get restored in Cortez and got permission from Vandyk to stage it only one week at the restaurant slip, Stewart said.
"However, the owner of the Seafood Shack was delighted upon her arrival and insisted that we stay," Stewart said. "We have now fallen into a desperate situation."
The Seafood Shack has a successful working relationship with Stewart and Kruegle, said Jedidiah Lippincott, Seafood Shack chief operating officer.
"Mr. Vandyk loves the boat and loves Rick Stewart's passion for boats," Lippincott said. "Our patrons can come out and see a piece of history that is older than the fishing village of Cortez and they can talk to Rick and learn a lot of history."
In return, the Seafood Shack hopes to be able to help the new non-profit when it gets up and running by steering boat lovers toward it, Lippincott said.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.