New Brunswick

Shipwrecked: Former Bay of Fundy ferry, MV Grand Manan, aground in Panama

The fondly remembered former Bay of Fundy ferry, MV Grand Manan, has been shipwrecked and abandoned on rocks off the coast of Panama.

Fritz Breckner, who purchased vessel from Coastal Transport in 2011, abandons $800K investment

A fondly remembered former Bay of Fundy ferry, MV Grand Manan, has been shipwrecked and abandoned on rocks off the coast of Panama. Fritz Breckner, who purchased vessel from Coastal Transport in 2011, abandoned an$800K investment. 0:49

A fondly remembered former Bay of Fundy ferry, MV Grand Manan, has been shipwrecked and abandoned on rocks off the coast of Panama.

The vessel, long-known as the "black boat" by Grand Mananers, was purchased in 2011 from Coastal Transport and renamed the San Blas Ferry by its new owner, Fritz Breckner, an Austrian native who has lived in the Central American country for many years.

It was my first boat of this size — and my last.- Fritz Breckner , owner

Breckner is a colourful character, well-known for carrying foot passengers and motorcycle trekkers by catamaran around the Darien Gap, a name given to a large break in the Pan-American Highway between South and Central America, where the land route for travellers peters out.

Breckner told CBC News he purchased the 1,300-tonne vessel from Coastal Transport for $200,000 in hopes of offering an expanded car and passenger service between Panama and Colombia.
Fritz Breckner said he lived on the ferry, renamed the San Blas, for awhile when he couldn't get permits to operate it. (Facebook/Fritz Breckner)

"I really was lucky to get it," Breckner said.

"When I bought it, it was an absolute gift, it was an absolute great boat in very good shape; very nice machinery. It was my first boat of this size — and my last."

He said he invested roughly $800,000 in the business venture, but the Panamanian government refused him the necessary permits for the ship, which was built by Saint John Shipbuilding in 1965.

He ended up living on the vessel while exploring other ways to employ it.

Engine stalled

The vessel met its end on July 17, two days after Breckner lost his longtime breadwinner, the 16-metre catamaran ferry, Jaqueline, which also ran aground.

In fact, Breckner was using San Blas to try to tow Jaqueline off rocks when the mishap occurred.

"As I was getting close, my left engine stalled," Breckner. "I wanted to do a right turn, and without the left engine I can't do a right turn on this boat. So I had to wait three-and-a-half minutes until the mechanic got the engine started again … but the seas we had were pushing the boat on the rocks."

There were no injuries in either mishap.

Lost 3 ships because of 'stupidity'

Fritz Breckner said he expects the San Blas will remain where it is for years to come because he doesn't have any insurance. (YouTube/YachtUltra1)
The 54-metre-long ferry now sits slightly listed but high and dry on rocks hundreds of metres off Panama's Atlantic coast.

Breckner said its engines and generator are almost entirely underwater and the hull is seriously damaged.

He said the vessel will likely stay where it is for years because he has no insurance.

"I lost this year, in total, three boats," Breckner said. "Two because of the stupidity of my captain and myself and one because of the stupidity of my lawyer."

Fritz is cheerful despite the setbacks.

"I don't have a lot of choices," he said.

At 66 years old, he has no plans to slow down, saying life working with boats is too much fun.

He's now refurbishing a catamaran and plans to resume ferrying foot and motorcycle passengers on the Panama-Colombia route.

"I wish you a pleasant time in the Bay of Fundy, which I liked a lot," he said.

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