Local News

Stuck pontoon boat survives Tar River plunge

Posted March 9, 2009 12:21 p.m. EDT
Updated March 9, 2009 6:24 p.m. EDT

— A pontoon boat that had been stuck on a dam for five days survived a 25-foot plunge into the Tar River Monday afternoon.

A crowd of about two dozen spectators gathered, and emergency crews stood by to ensure safety and watch for environmental or flooding hazards.

"I came to see that boat get launched," spectator Daniel Davis said.

Then a horn sounded, and city workers opened the floodgates around 2 p.m. A rush of current sent the boat sailing 25 feet down to the rocky water.

The boat bounced on the water once and stayed upright. Firefighters downstream in rescue boats pulled the vessel back to shore.

The boat had been stuck on the dam since last Wednesday, when it broke loose from its mooring and floated about a mile to the dam. For five days, it attracted spectators and photographers.

The boat's owner, who was out of town, faxed written permission for the City of Rocky Mount to push the vessel over the edge late last week. The boat owner's insurance company declared the vessel a total loss and agreed to repay the city for the cost of Monday's operation.

The boat's plight attracted fans who hoped for the vessel's survival – including Michael Sprinkle, from Nash County. On Sunday night, he swam to the edge of the dam, tied a rope to the boat and fastened the other end of the rope to a city maintenance wall.

Sprinkle said he was trying to save the boat and spare the owner and city the cost of cleanup – and maybe if the owner didn't want the boat anymore, pick up a boat at the cost of rescuing it.

"I imagine I did it the redneck, wrong way, but I tried," he said.

City officials managed to untie the rope before opening the floodgates.

Rocky Mount Police cited Sprinkle for trespassing Monday, nothing that he passed several "No Trespassing" signs to reach the boat. The charge carries a $50 fine and $120 in court costs.

Wayne Hollowell, Rocky Mount's director of Water Resources, said Sprinkle is lucky that he wasn't pulled over the dam. That hazard is why the city didn't try to pull the boat off the dam, Hollowell said.

"The element of one of our employees getting hurt made that far removed from good judgment," Hollowell said.

Sprinkle said that swimming out to the boat ended up being more dangerous than he expected.

"It was a very strong current, and it was very dangerous," he said. "I understand that, and I shouldn't have done that. But I was trying to save it for the owner."