Explosion shakes boat owner, marina

Bayliner blows up at fuel dock in blast that Port harbormaster said ‘sounded like a bomb going off,’ could have killed workers, people on 28-foot vessel

HOLDING A fishing pole that was destroyed when his boat exploded in the Port Washington marina Friday was Jason Schneider. While his boat, the Pitter Patter II, looks sound, the deck was torn from the hull. The force of the explosion also damaged much of the area below the deck (inset photo). Photos by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Friday was just an ordinary day for Jason Schneider of Port Washington — until his boat blew up at the marina fuel dock.

“It was one loud bang and one fire cloud and a junked boat,” Schneider said Tuesday while standing on the ruined boat outside his house. “It happened so fast.”

Friday started as a typical day, Schneider said. He and his significant other Laura Bahr had a little spare time so they decided to take an impromptu fishing trip about 12:30 p.m.

Schneider said he knew he needed gas for his boat — a 28-foot Bayliner named the Pitter Patter 2 — so the couple took the boat, which is kept in the marina, to the fuel dock, where they put in about $200 in gas.

“There was nothing out of the ordinary,” he said. “It was like any other normal day we were going to gas up and go fishing.”

He ran his blower for five minutes after fueling the boat, he said. Then, with Bahr at the stern and he at the helm,  he started the engine.

And that, said Schneider, is when the day took a turn. 

“Obviously, gas vapors ignited,” he said. “There was just one loud bang. It took the boat and it popped the rivets out.”

Unlike the movies, the explosion didn’t result in a fire that engulfed the vessel. There was only a flash of fire that singed the hair on his legs and head, he said.

“It was over before it started,” Schneider said.

Harbormaster Dennis Cherny said it sounded like “a bomb going off.”

“It shook up everybody,” he said. “It was heard at least as far away as Coal Dock Park.”

While Cherny said the force of the explosion separated the decking from the hull, the boat didn’t sink.

Schneider said he and Bahr quickly called her brother to bring a trailer to the marina, then Cherny towed the disabled boat to the launch ramps.

It’s now sitting outside Schneider’s house.

“For me, this didn’t sink in until I had the boat on a trailer in front of my house,” he said.

The accident had the potential to have been much more.

“We had three workers on the dock and two boats waiting for fuel. It could have been a tragedy,” Cherny said. “This could have taken the lives of three or four people.

“One big boom and that was the end of it. Fortunately, no one got hurt. A boat can be replaced.”

The boat, Schneider said, is totalled. The explosion was so forceful, he noted, that  he found fiberglass fishing rods that were stored below deck that were shattered by the force of the explosion.

“Aside from a little less hair on certain body parts, we’re OK. I’m just glad we didn’t have the kids with us,” he said.

“I thank my lucky stars. It’s just amazing nothing more happened.”

But the most perplexing thing is that the accident happened in the first place.

“They did everything right. Our people did everything right,” Assistant Harbormaster Lisa Rathke said.

“Sometimes accidents happen and people say, ‘This is why. If I had just done this differently, it wouldn’t have happened,’” Schneider said. “I keep thinking about it and there’s nothing I would do differently. I did things the way I always do.”

Despite the loss of his boat, Schneider said he won’t let the accident stop him from fishing.

“I love it too much,” he said. “It’s not going to deter me from doing what I love.”


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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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