For fellow Woody Boater’s Phil Jones and Tony Gowen, Thursday started out as a normal day of classic boating, cruising around on Lake Hartwell, SC prior to the start of the 2011 Lake Hartwell Antique Boat Festival. They were aboard “Impossible Dream” a 1948 22′ Shepherd Runabout. Robert Miracle and Chris Smith were aboard “Odeyssea”, Chris’s 27′ Chris-Craft Sea Skiff shooting some photographs for Woody Boater. Al and Bonne Olsen, and friends, were also there with “Norweigan Son” their 1950 Chris-Craft 23′ Holiday.

Phil noticed that the big Shepherd suddenly changed attitude and knew something wasn’t right. Five minutes later, in the middle of Lake Hartwell, the boat began to loose power. Then the engine shut down. The spray rails were a foot below the water with only another foot of free board remaining. When they signed in for the boat show, the ACBS Blue Ridge Chapter provided all the boat owner’s with a plastic 5 gallon Ace Hardware bucket which included the exhibitor’s information, documents, etc for the weekend.

Phil grabbed the bucket and began to bail water from in front of the rear seat section. The water was leaking in so fast that the bilge pump wasn’t able to keep up.

Fortunately Al Olsen and Chris Smith noticed that Phil and Tony were in trouble, and immediately went over to help. Al Olsen hooked up a line to the disabled Shepherd and began to tow it towards the nearest land they could see. Phil continuously bailed water with the 5 gallon bucket for about 35 or 40 minutes as they were being towed to shore.

Phil said that the boat was taking on water so fast that it began listing badly, and if Tony let go of the steering wheel to help Phil bail water, it just became worse as the boat was being towed. So Tony continued steering and Phil continued to bail water. For anyone who has ever looked at one of these big Shepherd’s, due to the deep hull design, there’s a lot of hull side to bail water over.

While Al Olsen was towing the boat, Chris Smith was has communicating with Al via cell phone as they found a nearby public boat ramp, discussing the best way to get the Shepherd as close to the boat ramp as possible without doing any further damage to the Shepherd or to Al’s 23′ Holiday. Phil continued to bail water with the plastic bucket…

They managed to get the Shepherd as close as possible to the ramp as it continued to take on water, with the bilge pump still operating.

At this point, Phil determined that the only possible way he was going to get the boat closer to shore and prevent it from sinking was to attempt to pull it with the rope towards shore, which meant jumping into the cold water and trying to get his footing on the lake bottom. Phil struggled to find his footing in the deep water.

Although the water was still deep, Phil finally managed to pull the stranded boat closer towards the ramp into shallow water. As the spring water tempeature was so cold, hyperthermia became a concern, but Phil continued to inch the boat closer to the boat ramp.

Phil then managed to swing the bow of the Shepherd towards the boat ramp. While he pulled the boat towards shallow water, Chris Smith contacted US Boat to come over to the ramp and assist Phil with the wounded boat, and the subsequent retrieval effort.

When US Boat arrived, the engine was covered in oil and it required two pumps to pump out the water so they could get it loaded back on the trailer.

Once on the trailer, they discovered a grapefruit size hole in one of the midship planks.

Phil Jones and Tony Gowen credit the successful rescue effort to two things… The quick thinking of Al Olsen and Chris Smith who realized that the Shepherd was in trouble and quickly reacted to the situation… And the plastic Ace Hardware 5 gallon bucket that was given to them by the ACBS Blue Ridge Chapter organizers.

When I spoke to Phil on Friday, he said “This is a perfect example of why these old wooden boats should have new bottoms installed, for the safety of family and friends… That’s as close as I want to get… The plastic bucket saved it.”

Thanks Phil, and we are glad to see that you and Tony are safe and dry. Good work! And thanks goes out as well to Al Olsen and crew, Chris Smith and crew, and Robert Miracle for the great images.

For their bravery and for saving the Shepherd from sinking in 80 feet of water in Lake Hartwell, Phil and Tony have been named Woody Boater’s of the month!

I’m sure there is more to the story that we have not touched on, and we hope that Phil chimes in to Woody Boater with the rest of the details so we can all learn from this experience – Texx

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36 Responses to “Phil Said – “That’s As Close As I Want To Get… The Plastic Bucket Saved It””
  1. Woody

    Jesus. My excitement yesterday was that I had nachoes with dinner and my wife was not there telling me no! 5 gallon buckets are now going to be on every boat trip..

  2. Woody

    It was the varnish rules woody boater t shirt that saved the day!

  3. John Kadimik

    The one time I don’t want Robert Miracle around, when my boat is sinking.

  4. Aaron

    You can see the money spent on that boat was to make it look good. Safety first.

  5. Rick

    Nobody works quite as hard and fast as a man with a bucket in a sinking ship. Good work. Happy to see it turned out as well as it did.

  6. John

    Nice save and good thinking. I hate to see that happen. BTW, how is the weather down there today? I was planning on coming down to visit but the weather looks horrible. Was hoping this would be my first boat show (sans boat though)

  7. Jerri

    Hi John, Come on down and joiin us. Looks like all will be clear by 11 am.

  8. Dave P

    For as bad a day as that was, they have to feel very lucky! Good work to all involved. And nice pictures too .

  9. randy & ginger

    that doesn’t even look like fun.

    having friends in the area when you’re going down…priceless…

    hope everyone in hartwell came through the storms in good shape.

    miss you all.

  10. chad

    Nice bucket work, Phil!

    Glad to see the boat and everyone are OK.

  11. Jim Godlewski

    Holy Crap that was close! Glad they made it in. Saved by friends and a bucket. Amen.

  12. Al Benton

    The bucket saved the boat. No doubt about it. What a coincidence to have one in the Shepherd at the time. Wow! Count your blessings.

    I did see one life jacket, where was yours, Phil?

  13. Mike M

    All I can say is wow. And thank god no one got hurt. My heart rate picked up reading that story. I’ve been in a couple boats a couple times that were taking on water. No fun. Nothing more valuable than qualified, calm help. Also, one of those hand powered bilge pumps are priceless. You can get them for about $30 at Home Depot and they can be stored away easily. Everyone should have one. They move a lot of water quickly.

  14. Alex


    Phil is absolutely right when he said: “This is a perfect example of why these old wooden boats should have new bottoms installed, for the safety of family and friends…”

    Classic and Antique Boats in Hessel just completed a beautiful, new 5200 bottom on a 25′ Sportsman I own.

    Although the boat sorely needed a new bottom, and replacement was the right right thing to do, your article made me feel so much better about the cost.

    With three young kids, and 11 mile rides on Lake Huron to Mackinac Island, across water reaching depths of 300′, it’s so worth it.

  15. Ol' Salt

    Excitng story…reads like a suspense thriller…couldn’t wait to scroll down to read more…all the more meaningful for those of us who have also nearly sunk our treasure, West bottom and all…another story, another day…

  16. anonymous

    not exactly the kind of experience I want to add to my “bucket” list

  17. Mike M

    I wonder if we’ll start seeing buckets with the Hagerty logo on them at boat shows……

  18. Woody

    An official woody boater bilge bucket is already under way. We will bring them to all the shows we can.

  19. Texx

    Official Woody Boater bilge buckets, Big Woody Trophies, Cameras, Video Gear, Laptop Computer… “I think we are going to need a bigger Harley-Davidson” – HA!

  20. Bartlomiej

    I had this happen to me one day. The maiden voyage of my 63 Lyman Sleeper… After 3 months of restoring, we almost went down… Glad I had a bucket on hand as well! Nice to see this Shep didn’t go down!

  21. Phillip Jones

    I’m home, WOW if you think that was something, you should have seen it in black and white!!!!! Didn’t have my laptop on this trip so thought I would check in now that I survived the trip home.
    John K , yea I’m just glad Bob was off our starboard transom, that spared ya’ll some ugly crack shots:)
    Aron, just got the boat a month ago and the bottom looked pretty good. Should have lasted at least a year or two, so bad comment, shame on you, good thing you wern’t in the boat I’d have tossed you out to light’n the load:)
    Rude. You try baling a 5 gal bucket of water over the side of a Shepherd every 4 sec for 35 – 40 min. with a life jacket on. But I do understand. I had Toney put his on and had him open mine up and lay it on the front seat ready to install very quickly, because I was going to bale til she went nose up. I’m a stubbon *^%^%$#%.
    Chad, Thanks, when I get that RIDE SOMEDAY I’ll bring the bucket, just for saftey sake.
    Al, Kind and suttle I was paying attention and new where my jacket was, and even better I kept one eye on Chris Smiths swim platform. Know way they could have gotten us over the sides of Al’s Holiday, at least not Tony, I felt like I could walk on water. LOL I tried, it didn’t work as planned, but it did work.
    Thanks for all concerned, as I set here safe at home in my chair, I’mm still not able to bend over and ty my shoes, and trying to set or get off the toilet is downrite comical, even to me. Ya gota laugh what else can you do. Maybe this will get me out of the tow weeks of yard and house work I promised my wife when I got back:) NAUGH, Crap I want to be in the wood shop. Matt glad you wern’t there. See ya soon

  22. Woody

    We are so happy that you able to at least laugh about this now. Kinda… Something good always come from events like this. The debate of old wood is now under way in a more intense level. That’s good.. We all will be getting buckets.. That’s good.. And from this point on you will be known as “that guy that saved his boat” Maybe you are a Shepard in a way. LEading us all on the right path.. I am wrestling with the idea of not putting a new bottom on my boat. I am re thinking that now.

  23. Phillip Jones

    Good, if you are THINKING about it my new police is IT’S OVER DUE!!!! And TPH thanks for not posting any Canook jabs I know what you were thinking it.

  24. tph

    I will wait until tomorrow when i have you on the phone
    to bust your chops.
    vintage marine

  25. Hashi

    Phil, where’s your life jacket?! An old buzzard like you needs to be careful you know.

    – Hashi

  26. Todd Campbell

    It was great to meet you on Lake Hartwell last week, so under such circumstances, gladyou made it home with no more issues. I must tell al your fellow woody buddys you stayed with your ship. Your a real trooper . If there is any thing we can do for you please call. Glad we were there to help pump you out and assist in your needs.

    Good Luck Todd Campbell Tow Boat US

  27. Rodger

    Phil: As scary as this story is to read, it was even scarier when you told it last Saturday evening as we sat at the dinner table together in Hartwell. Hope your back is feeling better soon. And as a doctor, I agree with you that you do not need a cardiac stress test! All that bailing was way more stress than a stress test could have done, and way cheaper too!

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