Bahama bound barge gets a Downeast assist

It’s a rare day when traffic comes to a standstill Downeast, but it happened October 21 when a 50-foot-long barge was being transported from Bucks Harbor en route to Florida. The barge, which had been hoisted by crane onto on a trailer earlier in the day in Bucks Harbor, came to a stop when the truck pulling it broke an axle while on Route 92 – Port Road – a half-mile from the Machiasport town line, blocking the road for a full day.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Department said the barge bottomed out and stopped traffic at 3:00 p.m., and it was not until 24 hours later when new equipment arrived, and the barge once again began its journey south. Traffic was rerouted over Rim Road and Elm Street.

Barge is hoisted with a crane from the beach in Bucks Harbor onto a trailer in preparation for the journey to the Bahamas

Clay Thomas of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., purchased the barge and was having it transported to Florida, where he intends to use it to haul construction equipment and supplies to the storm-battered Bahamas, where he, too, lost a home to Hurricane Dorian. “This craft is the perfect size for the waters in and around the Bahamas,” says Thomas. “I looked for barges closer to Florida, but they were just too big, and many were not mechanized. This is essentially a landing craft designed to carry vehicles and can easily navigate shallow waters.”

According to local fisherman George Sprague, the mechanized barge, built in 1985, was originally owned and used by the U.S. Navy for the transport of military equipment. Wesley Graham of Harbor Homes in Machiasport previously owned the barge, using it for construction projects on nearby islands over the last couple of years.

Barge is stopped on Port Road awaiting emergency and support services to arrive. The road was closed for approximately 24 hours

Graham worked with Thomas in getting it prepped and ready for transport. “This was a great opportunity to work with someone trying to help others,” says Graham.

The Category 5 Hurricane Dorian, one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record, caused catastrophic damage on September 1 when it made landfall over the Bahamas. Sustained winds were clocked at 185 miles per hour, and 70,000 people were left homeless, with 61 deaths officially reported, though that is expected to rise over time.

Thomas, a merchant marine and private yacht captain, needed to do something given the decimation he witnessed in the Bahamas. “I was one of the first civilians on the ground on Great Abaco Island, where my home was, and saw first hand the devastation,” said Thomas. “I lost friends and neighbors there and just needed to do something. There is nothing in the way of equipment or ports for that matter to receive incoming supplies. This piece of equipment is perfect for what is needed right now.”

Clay Thomas’s home on Great Abaco Island before the arrival of one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record

…and what remained when Thomas returned to the island after Hurricane Dorian

The barge was further delayed as it awaited additional equipment and logistical coordination in Machias, but as of today, is on its way south. What does Thomas think of his first visit Downeast? “This project had some challenges, no doubt,” says Thomas. “But everyone here, from the sheriff’s department, the fire department, the motel and eating establishments right on up to the hardware store have been just great and so very helpful. There is no doubt now in my mind this story will have a happy ending.” Thomas hopes to have everything down in Florida ready for travel to the Bahamas my mid-November.

RJ Heller

About RJ Heller

Having arrived here from Pennsylvania over four years ago, there has been plenty to learn and even more to observe. This place is different, but I mean that in a good way. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, I am a college graduate with a teaching degree, a business founder and seller, and a father of two children with my wife Stephanie; life has been full and somewhat adventurous, but finding Maine remains a high watermark in my life.