For many years, up until Hurricane Irma, MV Reef Sampler was the workhorse of Bitter End, transporting crew members and guests on countless adventures. On September 6, 2017, she was on duty, lying to Bitter End’s stoutest mooring, the only Bitter End vessel not hauled out for the coming storm. After Irma passed, she was nowhere to be seen. In this breathtaking footage of Reef Sampler's rescue led by Sunchaser Scuba, Richard Hokin chronicles the life of this legendary vessel. Don't miss this stirring footage and imagine what her new role might be as a star of Bitter End 2.0. Click on the link below to hear her story.
In the summer of 1968, we purchased a 34-foot hull at Webber’s Cove Boatyard in Blue Hill, Maine, a pioneer in fiberglass lobster boats and shipped it for finishing to Stu Ingersoll’s Essex Boat Works in Essex, Connecticut. We were excited by the prospect of having our new boat in the Virgin Islands before the end of the 1968 winter season.
Reef Sampler, named for our fascination with the Virgin Islands’ coral reefs and the life they support, arrived in St. Thomas a year behind schedule. She was equipped for sport fishing but also had a pot-hauling winch, a lookout mast and a harpoon pulpit.
We began negotiating to buy Bitter End in 1970. During the three years it took to close the deal, Reef Sampler made innumerable trips between St. Thomas and North Sound. By the time everything was signed, sealed and delivered, like a trusted trail horse, Reef Sampler probably could have made the trip without human intervention. Once Bitter End was in our hands, Reef Sampler became its lifeline and our source of many adventures. She even accompanied Alianora on a scientific expedition to the Caribbean coast of Central America in 1973.
When Bitter End’s expansion got underway in the mid-70s, Reef Sampler hauled every imaginable material and fixture from St. Thomas to North Sound, often in the middle of the night when the trade winds had quieted down. But, at least a few days each week she’d find her way to Anegada for a dive on the outside wall of Horseshoe Reef, some experimental fishing at the North Drop or a picnic at still-undiscovered Necker Island.
For many years, up until Irma, Reef Sampler was the workhorse of Bitter End transporting crew members and guests on countless journeys. On September 6, 2017, she was on duty, lying to Bitter End’s stoutest mooring, the only Bitter End vessel not hauled out for the coming storm. After Irma passed, she was nowhere to be seen. Parts of her superstructure were found on Prickly Pear but the whereabouts of her hull remained a mystery.
The first clue came during early 2018, when Her Majesty’s Hydrographic Office was conducting its first BVI survey since 1926, an era of sounding by lead line. This survey was being done with sophisticated sonar using a smaller inshore vessel to survey North Sound. One afternoon, this boat came alongside out dock and the sonar operator asked us if we knew about a sunken vessel in our mooring field. Armed with precise coordinates, the next step in solving the case was handed over to Sunchaser Scuba, who, as the maintainer of our mooring field, knew the location of every mooring. Upon further inspection, it was evident that Reef Sampler’s mooring ball during Irma had gone missing along with her.
The Sunchaser team geared up for a dive at the lost mooring’s location. The mystery was solved. Reef Sampler remained at her mooring, but now she was sitting upright on the bottom of North Sound. There was no way that we could abandon the most senior and revered member of our fleet where she lay, virtually intact. Salvage plans were drafted. Using airbags, Sunchaser refloated and beached her at Bitter End’s South End to await her debut as a star of BEYC 2.0 and its second most senior cast member, after me.