Wed, 27 Feb 2008
KEY WEST -- When the winds of Hurricane Wilma blew across Key West in 2005, they dragged a $16 million, 158-foot luxury
yacht called the Legacy
into shallow tidal flats.
Owner Peter Halmos of Palm Beach was on board. After the storm, Halmos and his relieved crew of six shed their life
jackets and found the sleek boat buried in several feet of sand and sea grass.
Wilma had needed only a couple of hours to drag the boat the mile over the flats, but it would take a Miami salvage
company six months to do the same, sometimes at a pace of only 10 feet per day. The reason: The boat was stuck in the
middle of the environmentally sensitive Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge, which meant salvage crews couldn't
use invasive measures to move it.
The ever-evolving project -- which likely will end up costing Halmos more than the $16 million he paid for the yacht --
required him to navigate a sea of regulatory restrictions, marine sanctuary concerns, legal wrangling and several failed
salvage attempts. And it required thwarting pirates -- with a rifle.
But 2 ˝ years after that night when Halmos and crew thought they were going to die, the Legacy is now safely anchored in
Key West Harbor, in view of the Coast Guard station.
''We busted loose [Monday],'' Halmos wrote in an e-mail published on the nautical website The Triton.
''I know we're thrilled it's finally out,'' said Dave Score, superintendent of the Florida Keys National Marine
Sanctuary. "It went according to plan. Now we can start to evaluate restoration strategies.''
During much of the 2 ˝ years, the Hungarian émigré lived on the yacht, which looked like it had battled a warship on the
outside but was still quite a palace inside, with teak floors, mahogany walls, satellite TV, a hot tub and a private
But Halmos, who made his fortune as co-founder of a company that sold credit card insurance, eventually moved into a
houseboat at Aqua compound, a community of houseboats he created to keep an eye on the Legacy, plastered with ''Keep
After failed salvage attempts, he finally found the right firm for the job: family-owned Miami River-based Byrd
Here's how they did it, according to Christian Byrd, a third-generation partner in the family business:
The five-person crew began by cutting two holes in the midnight blue hull. Through those holes was placed a 2 ˝-inch bar
that became part of a special submersion pump to excavate the sand in front of the Legacy.
The pump was pulled by pulleys called beach gears. ''Every time we would pull it, we would deposit the sand right behind
the Legacy,'' he said. ``Basically, we were doing a leap frog.''
The sand went through a hose under the water so particles didn't plume into the air and cause even more environmental
problems. It was impossible to avoid destroying some sea grass, the nursery for marine life and fish, because of the
The entire project was surrounded by 3 ˝ miles of yellow turbidity curtain, which floats on the surface and has a meshing
that goes to the bottom. Byrd said the crew operated their dredger for 900 hours during the project.
When there was enough sand dredged from in front of the Legacy, another boat hundreds of yards away used a large winch
and two heavy cables to pull the yacht. This continued until noon Monday, when Legacy finally got out of the flats and
into open water.
After an initial scare when the Legacy got briefly stuck again, the boat was towed two miles to Key West Harbor, arriving
at 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday, the crew used a 4,000-pound anchor to keep the Legacy in place without the help of the Helen B barge. Now the
crew has 9,000 feet of cable and 15,000 pounds of anchors to retrieve.
''Maybe when we get home to Miami we'll celebrate,'' Byrd said.
As for Halmos, he has two restoration projects on his hands: the yacht and the sea grass of Great White Heron.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration experts who oversee the sanctuary waters will assess the dredging path
and work with Halmos on a plan to repair the environmental damage, said NOAA special counsel Craig O'Connor.
''We anticipate Mr. Halmos building the grade back up to where the vessel had been resting and replanting sea grass in
those areas,'' O'Connor said.
Halmos was not fined for the damage, Score said, because it was viewed as an act of God. But O'Connor said Halmos has
paid for the entire salvage project and will be responsible for the restoration as well.
Halmos has estimated the ordeal will cost him more than the $16 million he originally paid for the Legacy in 1985, when
it was one of the 10 largest sailing yachts in the world.
While it was marooned, a group of about eight men in fast inflatable rafts approached, claiming they were from FEMA and
had authorization to confiscate the boat's luxurious features. They returned a few times, but Halmos and his
rifle-bearing crew kept them from boarding.
Now, O'Connor said he expects Halmos will load the yacht onto a cargo ship and send it back to its original shipyard in
Viareggio, Italy, to be rebuilt into ''the gorgeous boat'' that it once was.