The salvaging of valuable items from the boats, conducted by volunteers from Gulfport’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), will fund the annual municipal employee appreciation dinner, typically held in the spring.
Years ago, when the city needed to trim their budget, funding for the party was cut, said Lou Worthington of Gulfport and a lead volunteer member of the local CERT.
At that time, the city was paying for professional salvors to dispose of vessels, he said.
Currently, the price charged by salvors ranges from $150 to $200 per foot, said Gulfport Municipal Marina Director Denis Frain. This means the cost of disposal for a typical 30-foot sailboat would range from $4,500 to $6,000.
Worthington and his brother approached City Manager Jim O’Reilly and proposed the idea of letting CERT volunteers do the salvaging as a way to fund the party. The plan was approved.
Since then, when a vessel is legally declared abandoned and ownership is turned over to the city, CERT volunteers get busy following an established workflow.
First, the team removes items like marine radios and safety flares that are not permanently mounted to keep pirates from stealing from the salvage operation, said Worthington.
Next, items like stainless steel and brass hardware, teak wood, hatches, ladders, anchors, sails, wenches and motors are recovered.
Many things are stored locally then offered for sale at the annual local nautical flea market. This year, the sale will be held on Saturday, March 16 from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. along Miriam Street South between the marina and Clam Bayou Nature Park.
Specialty and large items are sold to people in the area who are part of a salvage network that Worthington and others have established business relationships with over the years.
For instance, a soft lead sailboat keel is the most valuable thing CERT volunteers recover, he said.
Though prices vary daily, a Tampa buyer typically pays from 50 cents to $1 per pound and then repurposes the lead into items such as diving weights for scuba, said Worthington. A sailboat keel can weigh from 2,000 to 3,000 pounds meaning its local salvage value ranges from $1,000 to $3,000.
Stripping a boat of sellable items takes about two days, said Worthington.
And, unless a tool like a saw or drill gets broken and needs to be replaced, 100 percent of the proceeds from selling recovered items funds the party, he said.
A key part of the workflow involves removing and properly disposing of hazardous materials such as fuel, oil and human waste, said Frain.
Once a vessel is stripped of anything that can be sold, city workers use a front-end loader to crush the hull then it’s taken to the county landfill for final disposal, he said.
Typically, CERT volunteers and city staff process from 12 to 20 boats per year, said Frain.