LAKE OZARK, Mo. — Since her likely ice-related sinking back on Feb. 17, the excursion vessel Captain Larry Don has rested on the bottom of the Lake of the Ozarks in about 10 feet of water. But one man is still working to save the Larry Don.
The best guess as to the cause of the sinking is that a through hull fitting was damaged by ice, or was frozen and broke much like a water pipe would. Regardless of the cause and despite her watertight bulkheads, the historic vessel went down by the stern and ultimately sank at the dock. Efforts to raise the boat have been thwarted by an unusually cold winter. The same frozen waters that sent her to the bottom have helped to keep her there thus far.
John Alles, owner of High Performance Marine, has spearheaded efforts to get the Larry Don floating again. Alles says Hart Diving and Salvage was the first company to begin trying to float the vessel but then pulled out of the project.
Tim McNitt of Atlantis Dive and Dock Salvage says he also began approaching the task of floating the Larry Don but soon realized it could be a bigger job than any local company has the tools to manage.
Alles explained the new approach. “The Captain Larry Don is basically a barge,” he explained. “There isn’t any hull damage, so if we can get the water out and air in, she’ll float.” The new plan is to use a two-hose approach, one pumping water out and the other pumping high-pressure air in. Auxiliary float bags will be used in the stern, which is the heaviest part of the boat and the area where the water that sunk her came in. Once the water is displaced by air, the watertight bulkheads will be able to do their job again and the vessel should float.
McNitt says that tactic might work, but the job could potentially require the use of a crane, too. He calculates the Larry Don, in its current waterlogged state, weighs around 320,000 pounds.
The good news is the Larry Don is no longer a danger to the environment: its minimal amount of fuel leakage has been stopped. The tanks had been emptied prior to the sinking, and the same for the sewage holding tanks. The boat’s time on the sea floor also presents little threat of additional damage to the vessel itself.
Alles states that he was the last mechanic to work on the vessel and had her running just two years ago.
This is a boat with deep roots in the community, and there has been an outpouring of support for her salvage, according to Alles.
“I got a call from a gentleman who says he hand-carved the letters of the boat’s name on the cabin top, and another from a lady who says her husband performed more than 600 weddings on her deck,” he said.
In another attempt to restore the Larry Don to its former glory, those seeking to save the boat from the scrapyard have approached Miller County, asking the government to declare the vessel an historic object. This would open the door for financial assistance in her raising and restoration. Efforts are also underway to establish a non-profit charitable foundation for the Larry Don, though Alles notes IRS red tape has slowed the efforts down.
Once the administrative hurdles have been cleared, Alles says a Facebook page will be set up to disseminate information and coordinate fundraising efforts. He says the money raised would be used to pay environmental fines and clean-up fees totaling around $7,000, and to get her floating again. Alles says any remaining funds would be used in efforts to refurbish The Bagnell Dam Strip in Lake Ozark, with a focus on renovating older buildings in an effort to prevent their demolition.
The owners of the vessel have agreed not to rush her to the scrap yard, Alles says. It is their intent to allow time for the fundraising effort, as long as Ameren will allow the boat to stay in its current state.
Alles says he doesn’t think the owners realized what they had, until the community started making its feelings towards the old excursion vessel known. He suggests the support from the community has strengthened the owners’ resolve to keep her out of the scrap yard.
However, with several obstacles to clear before the boat is raised, the fate of the Captain Larry Don is less than certain. Time will tell whether the boat with a clear history at the Lake will make it out of the water in one piece.