It was a beautiful, clear, and calm Caribbean Sunday in early July when Sea Tow headed out of St. Thomas to pluck the 42-foot charter catamaran off Johnson’s Reef, a well-marked obstacle off St. John’s north side.
"They just drove up there. It’s hard to believe, but that’s why I’m in business," Sea Tow owner Alan Wentworth said, chuckling. The boat suffered some damage, but the passengers were fine, only upset at their plight. The incident was business as usual for Wentworth, who took over the St. Thomas Sea Tow franchise from Gary Lohr (no relation to this writer) in February with partners Ed Hughes and David Shock.
While Sea Tow is his bread and butter, cleaning up the shorelines is his passion. With a $150,000 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grant, he and Hughes started a program called Clean the Bay in Rhode Island. The program depends on volunteers from organizations like the Boy Scouts of America, yacht clubs, and universities to scour the beaches for debris. Additionally, local governments contributed, picked up the debris, and transported it to their landfills.
Wentworth said he received a $175,000 NOAA grant the second year and now he’s making efforts to get a similar program under way in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
"There’s so much trash on the shorelines, so many boats left over from previous hurricanes. It’s disgusting," he said.
He said he’s met with representatives from Governor John deJongh’s office and the territory’s Planning and Natural Resources Department to get the project underway, but so far, hasn’t firmed up anything.
"We’re waiting for a second meeting," Wentworth said in early July.
He said he has a grant writer ready to fly south to write the proposal. However, he said it’s a complicated process that involves locating debris with a GPS, photos, and a report by the local Fish and Wildlife Division on the impact of debris removal on fish.
Wentworth said NOAA likes projects like this one because it involves the community.
His link with nautical projects came naturally."I’ve been involved in boats all my life," he said. Born in Cranston, Rhode Island, Wentworth, 61, grew up near the sea and served in the merchant marine as an able-bodied seaman. He served time in Vietnam, and holds Emergency Medical Technician and firefighter certification.
Fed up with cold Rhode Island winters that shut down the marina and towing business, he opted to head south to St. Thomas.
"In November they’re hauling out up there, but they’re launching down here," he said. Business is brisk, with most of it salvaging vessels that end up on reefs and rocks for a variety of reasons. His company provides numerous services beyond salvage including annual memberships that give unlimited numbers of tows, jump starts and more.
"It’s like AAA for boats," he said. Wentworth also owns the Newport, Rhode Island Sea Tow franchise as well as a marina.
For an update on his progress in cleaning up the VI shoreline or information on Sea Tow, call Wentworth at (340) 777-4869.