On the eve of a meeting between those who want a pontoon boat returned to the organization that donated it to MacDill Air Force Base and base officials, the two sides don’t agree on how badly the boat fell into disrepair while docked at the MacDill marina.
In 2003, a 24-foot wheelchair-friendly Crestliner named the Miss Beverly in honor of Beverly Young, the wife of the late Congressman C.W. “Bill” Young and a tireless advocate for troops, was donated by the Florida Gulf Coast Chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans of America to MacDill. The PVA wants the boat, rechristened Saturday, back so that more veterans can have access to it. MacDill Air Force Base says that is not legally possible under Air Force regulations. The two sides meet today.
“At no point was the ‘Miss Beverly’ considered unfit for use or unseaworthy,” according to an email to the Tribune late Monday afternoon from Air Force 2nd Lt. Patrick Gargan, a base spokesman. “Its care and condition has continually been a part of the MacDill Marina’s maintenance plan that supports an average of 10 vessels... The boat was in good repair prior to these upgrades and was always maintained in accordance with Air Force and Florida standards.”
But an August email from the base to Al Krezeczowski, the retired Army Special Forces colonel who led the charge to fix the boat, offers another version of the Miss Bev’s condition.
“Ms Beverley was condemned many months ago,” Caroline Rice, MacDill’s director of outdoor recreation wrote in an Aug. 1 email to Krezeczowski, also copied to 6th Air Mobility Wing Commander Col. Scott DeThomas’ administrative assistant, “this was why we purchased a new vessel.”
Rice was referring to the Bay Warrior, another pontoon boat designed for wheelchair-bound veterans that was christened Nov. 1.
After being shown the email from Rice to Krezeczowski, base officials reiterated their stance.
“The Outdoor Recreation boat mechanic stated, ‘At no point was the Miss Beverly declared condemned or unseaworthy. The boat received normal repair maintenance for a 10-year-old boat,’” Gargan wrote Tuesday.
But at least two of 30 or so who worked on the Miss Bev say the vessel should not have been allowed on the water.
“She was in pretty bad shape,” said Scott Nickolas, owner of Nickolas Manufacturing, an aluminum fabricating company. “It was repairable, but not seaworthy.”
When asked if he would have gone on the boat, Nickolas said “no, it was a sinker, too many holes.”
Robin Stach, a lifelong Pinellas boat builder, assisted in the rehab effort along with his son Chris and concurred that the Miss Bev was unfit for the water.
“We determined through pressure testing and soapy water, that there were about 500 to 800 little miniature pinholes where the aluminum corroded,” said Stach. “It was absolutely not seaworthy.”
Stach said the number of people who came forward willing to help “was impressive.”
According to a chain of emails, Krezeczowski warned base officials about the Miss Bev even while he was stationed in Kabul.
“...(I)n my opinion the Miss Bev is unsafe,” he wrote to the base in May. “The aluminum has leaks/holes in the left pontoon. If it is leaking and weak there the aluminum is probably bad/weak through out. When I had it out the boat at low rpm took a deep dive on the left side and went well over the bow soaking the wheelchair vet. The boat was put in service in 2003 and is done.”
The two sides agree that after Krezeczowski, an associate member of the local PVA chapter and Phil Faas, a wheelchair bound veteran, took the boat for an assessment, they asked for and received permission to make the repairs.
Krezeczowski said that he hopes the meeting with base officials results in a loosening of restrictions on who can use the boat without paying the $110 daily fee, some way to give better base access for veterans to use the boat and common ground on a way to get the boat back to the local PVA. DeThomas told Krezeczowski that Air Force rules would require a “sales event” or closed bid for that to happen.