Barnacle Historic State Park is in ship shape again with help of volunteer crew 

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Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The best way to find your self is in the service of others.” In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, volunteers were asked to take those words to heart by finding their way into Coconut Grove to help clean up The Barnacle Historic State Park.

On two separate days, Sept. 16 and 18, the Barnacle’s hosted “Volunteer Days for Hurricane Irma Recovery.” A handful of residents, board members, and volunteers came out to get the grounds of the old estate in ship shape again – in time for the debut of the park’s first Moonlight Concert of the 2017-18 season, starring Pitbull of Blues Band, Sept. 23.

“As a result of significant storm damage to the boathouse and grounds, it was crucial that the organization got back on an even keel as quickly as possible, so we could begin generating the funds needed to make repairs and fully recover from the storm,” said Barnacle Society President Alyn Pruett. Such events, including Moonlight Concerts and outdoor films, serve to raise funding that also allows staff to maintain the park for public enjoyment.

Two vessels washed onto the estate, including this derelict fishing boat that apparently hit the boathouse on its way in.

Two vessels washed onto the estate, including this derelict fishing boat that apparently hit the boathouse on its way in.

The estate also now has a whale of a tale to share with visitors – in the form of two vessels that literally landed on the estate’s bay-front lawn. One was a derelict fishing boat that was pushed up by the storm onto the grassy area just behind the boathouse.

The other stray craft was a 27’ Catalina sailboat, named “Zen Fish.” It was found standing perfectly upright the morning after beside a tall royal palm, half way up the yard between the shore and the front steps of the Main House.

Some say perhaps it was the spirit of the original owner of The Barnacle, Commodore Ralph Middleton Munroe, who guided this sailboat to safety – after all, Munroe’s principal passion was designing yachts.

The 1974 sailboat, named “Zen Fish,” was ultimately found here by its owner Thomas Villano, in very good shape, a few days after the storm. His friend and fellow sailor, Sam, spotted Villano’s boat on the Barnacle lawn as he was passing by in a dingy. The good-hearted captain, who came by the park to make plans to retrieve his Zen Fish, was even spotted raking up tree branches and hauling lawn debris alongside volunteers.

Villano’s idea was to place the boat on a trailer and take it back into the shallows during low tide, so that when high tide came in, he could then water tow it back out to its original mooring spot by Dinner Key.

“I rode out the storm in California, but all the while I was worried about my sailboat which I’ve been working on for quite a while,” said Villano, who lives on South Beach. “I hadn’t even had a chance to take it out for a sail yet. It apparently couldn’t wait and took off on its own – it’s amazing it survived!”

Situated on the shore of Biscayne Bay, The Barnacle was built in 1891 by Commodore Ralph Middleton Munroe, one of Coconut Grove’s most charming and influential pioneers. During his lifetime, he drew plans for 56 different sailboats. As a seaman, civic activist, naturalist, and photographer, Commodore Munroe also cherished the natural world around him. The Barnacle offers a stunning glimpse of Old Florida during “The Era of the Bay.”

The main entrance to the park is at 3485 Main Highway. For information, call 305-442-6866 or visit their website.

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About the Author

Bill Kress
Bill Kress, President of Kress Communications, is an editorial consultant with the Community Newspapers, covering business news, non-profits, and municipal government. He is an award-winning public relations practitioner, news reporter, photographer, and a prolific social mediologist. Reach Bill at or call 305-763-2429.

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