Our Ship Sank Off Brazil’s Coast in March 2007. We Are Still Here Held Hostage

American ship Lord Jim The story I’m about to tell is important reading for any Brazilian who loves this great country and wants it to move forward on a good path. The story is also a warning for any foreigner who visits Brazil, especially by boat…

My husband and I and our Australian shepherd Moana arrived in Angra dos Reis, Rio de Janeiro, in October 2006 on our American schooner Lord Jim and spent nearly 6 months cruising various islands in the exotic Costa Verde, including the famous Ilha Grande. This is a beautiful area for relaxed sailing and served as a good resting place in the middle of our circumnavigation of South America.

Unfortunately, tragedy overtook us when in early March 2007, as we were exiting Brazil to make the next leg of our voyage to the Caribbean, we struck an unmarked rock in the Baía da Ilha Grande, and sadly, our schooner sank.

With the amazingly speedy help of the local sailing community of Parati, we got Lord Jim floating again within 48 hours and through other good Brazilian friends we found a boat yard which could haul the boat for repairs.

Lord Jim is an 85-foot gaff-rigged schooner built in 1936 in New England, USA; she is built of wood and has a traditional deep lead keel. The only boat yard in the area to which we could safely tow and which could accommodate the deep keel is in the small town of Mangaratiba, about 100 km from Rio de Janeiro, so it was there we towed and hauled Lord Jim on the 16th to 18th March 2007. We are still here, July 24, 2010, held hostage by a Brazilian crook named Luiz Prado.

We made a contract with Luiz Prado who runs a boat repair business named Renaman with his partner, Daisy Meanda, who is the actual owner of the boat yard. Because we could not speak Portuguese at the time, a good Brazilian friend of ours helped us with this contract, which the two parties signed in April 2007 and the work began.

The actual sinking of Lord Jim was the result of a sprung garboard plank, the opening of which was caused by the pounding on the rock, but as we surveyed the hull we found more floors and frames which needed replacing (all of this technical boat building can be explained elsewhere and all the phases of the job are thoroughly documented with photographs and written records).

Luiz Prado was very encouraging for us to undertake a more thorough structural rebuild as he told us he was able to supply excellent quality Amazon hardwoods for the job via his other business, the Madeireira Litoral Fluminense do Sul. The contract which both parties signed included a time frame of 150 days for which we paid diárias (daily fees like parking) and Luiz Prado was to supply the materials.

The first large wood order arrived in early May 2007, for which Luiz Prado demanded that we pay in one lump sum, which we did. Suddenly on June 1st, he stopped all the work on Lord Jim for 2 weeks, the reason for which was totally unclear to us at the time. He was claiming we were not paying him according to the contracted agreement under which payments were to be made every quinzena (every 15 days).

However, we were paying him on schedule which included a payment we made that very day, June 1st. There are documented bank records verifying our payments accordingly. This work stoppage was the beginning of many and also the beginning of our realization of the nightmare we had unwittingly subjected ourselves to and from which there was to be no escape or as yet, no resolution.

For the next several months the work proceeded with many of these inexplicable stops and starts. Each day we went to the yard to work on Lord Jim we never knew what would happen; would our carpenters be allowed to continue their work on Lord Jim or would they be taken off the job and made to work on Luiz Prado’s boat, Larus, which he “happened” to be rebuilding at the same time from a wrecked state and “happened” to finish long before Lord Jim was finished.

Luiz Prado continued to sell us wood, some of which was worm eaten and unusable. The final wood order of cumaru for the planking he sold to us was green and wet. It could not be used for six months at least, until it had dried sufficiently, and this during rainy season!

Our carpenters were from Belém, Brazil’s wooden boat building capital. They are indigenous Amazon Indians and primarily used in this specific industry, to our understanding, in a system not too different from the “indentured servitude” practiced in the feudal ages.
Luiz Prado finally took away our three Belém carpenters permanently by the middle of October 2007 and thus all work on our beloved Lord Jim came to a screeching halt. The next thing we knew was Luiz Prado had filed a legal suit against us for perdas e danos (Losses and Damages) in the amount of more than 500,000 reais (close to US$ 300,000 at today’s rate) on January 8, 2008.

Our Brazilian friends recommended a lawyer from Rio and she and her partners became our only allies working to get our boat back in an increasingly vicious battle on the part of the Prado family. Not only is Lord Jim our home she is also the means by which we make some income through chartering to people who want to learn the skills of high-seas sailing and experience the vast and potent essence of our earth’s oceans.

We are nature teachers of sorts, we do “sail training” or adventure sailing for people who want to participate in long distance blue water voyages on a traditional schooner. Actually it’s a whole lot of work and a unique eye opener to our magnificent and precious planet.

Anyone who has become embroiled in the justice system of Brazil will understand why our Brazilian friends strongly warned us not to get involved in a legal case. However, we had no choice. Luiz Prado was after us and we had to respond to the processo (suit for damages) he had filed against us or we would be found guilty.

Anyone who is familiar with the Brazilian justice system will also know that it is very slow. In our district of Mangaratiba, there is only one judge for the approximately 50,000 residents, a vara única, and judges come and go. Five judges have “handled” our processo in the time span of 2.5 years.

The first judge ruled in our favor that we hire a company of our choice to complete the structural work on Lord Jim. Again with our Brazilian friend’s help we signed a contract with a company in Belém who furnished us with 3 Amazon carpenters and 2 caulkers.

They worked from August 20th until December 24, 2008, finishing the structural work designated in the original contract. Meaning, if Luiz Prado had not been trying to steal our boat in the first place by continuously delaying the job and trying to drive us out of Brazil, we would have finished all the structural work reasonably close to the contractual time frame of 150 days.

In the meantime, when we first arrived to Mangaratiba in extreme shock and bewilderment as a result of our disaster, Luiz Prado offered us a small apartment in the downstairs area of his home (a compound really) to use for storage of all our personal belongings and the boat’s spare parts, of which we carry a lot. We agreed to his rental price of 500 reais (US$ 285) per month for this small pair of rooms which he designated as Casa 3, although it had no direct access to the street.

Next he offered us the larger one-bedroom apartment upstairs for us to live in while the boat was being worked on. We signed a one year rental contract for 1,200 reais (US$ 683) per month for both casas 2 and 3.

With the work stopped on the boat since October 17, 2007 and the civil suit brought against us by Luiz Prado in the name of his company Renaman in January 2008, our lawyers next found that Aparecida Prado, his wife, had brought an eviction suit against us on August 20, 2008.

Fortunately, one of our lawyers specialized in real estate law informed us that the rental contract we had signed was written illegally and we had renter’s rights to remain in our rental for 30 months.

So we decided not to move at this time, since the work was beginning once more on the boat and we needed to be in the yard every day. Luiz Prado could no longer lock us out and keep us away from our property, our boat.

The first two Belém carpenters arrived from Pará by bus August 17, 2008 and were supposed to be allowed by the judge’s alvará (order) to stay on the boat in the yard. Luiz Prado would not let them stay in the yard, so we decided to let them stay in our small storage suite, Casa 3, underneath our apartment, Casa 2.

On the second night, August 19, the men were downstairs cleaning up to go get something to eat when we heard a commotion going on. We went downstairs to see and there was Flávio Prado with a large shovel threatening the carpenters, ordering them to leave our rented suite immediately. (Flávio is the oldest son of Luiz Prado and his wife Aparecida, and also attorney of record for his father).

Along with Flávio was his youngest brother Daniel and both parents were standing in the background. When my husband tried to approach the carpenters to see if they were OK, Flávio and Daniel both attacked him: Daniel shoving and pushing an iron bench against my husband causing him to lose his balance and fall onto the concrete of our patio and then Flávio slamming the shovel blade into my husband’s left foot while he lay there on the concrete.

Is this normal behavior of a Brazilian lawyer, an officer of the court? By the way, my husband was 70 years old at the time…do Brazilians always attack two or more to one? Do Brazilians always gang up on older defenseless foreigners?

I managed to get my husband to the local hospital to finally receive a dozen stitches while unbeknown to us, Aparecida Prado had rushed to the delegacia (police) reporting herself as the victim of a home invasion by my husband. We also had to find a pousada for the night for our two carpenters. And the next day, August 20th, Aparecida Prado filed the eviction case mentioned above against us.

The next case Luiz Prado brought against us was a medida cautelar, like an arrest warrant, to hold the boat as collateral in the event the judge did not rule in his favor and we would somehow “flee” Brazil with our boat even though the repairs were far from completed. This was in March 2009 and the current judge of the time categorically dismissed this request for “arresto”.

In the United States we are protected against what is known as Vexatious Litigation, which means the repeated harassment of an individual with false lawsuits designed especially to be detrimental and with wrongful purpose. It is against the law in the United States. Apparently a similar law does not exist in Brazil.

The final decision of the judge on the processo was handed down in November 2009. The sentence was not in the favor of Luiz Prado, he was not awarded 1/2 million reais in Losses and Damages.

Immediately Luiz Prado appealed this decision, his son Flávio entering a recurso (appeal) in the local court in December 2009. Our lawyers responded with a recurso on our side in December 2009.

There was a prazo (time schedule) of 15 days beginning in January 2010 when the courts reopened after the New Year holiday for these recursos to go to the segunda instância (the Appellate Court) in Rio de Janeiro.

We have waited more than 5 months for this transfer of the processo and the companion recursos to take place…finally on June 30th 2010 the entire case was sent to Rio, and has been published as of July 21st, 2010 by the Tribunal de Primeira Vice-Presidência, Rio de Janeiro.

While we were all waiting for the judge’s decision in 2009, Luiz Prado tried another form of what we consider blatant extortion. We knew the rails in the water were purposefully destroyed (this is more fully explained below), we could witness daily the continuing deterioration due to total lack of maintenance of the cradle and ways that support Lord Jim out of the water, and the judge had already dismissed the arrest warrant of the boat in March 2009.

In May 2009, Luiz Prado sent his brother-in-law, Humberto Vaz, also a lawyer, to meet with our three lawyers in Rio. This meeting was about money and Humberto came to “offer” our lawyers their solution to the “problem” in advance of the judge’s decision.

The boat would be allowed to go back into the water if we paid Luiz Prado the amount of 110,000 reais (roughly US$ 63,000). Our lawyers categorically refused to comply with this type of demand, saying we would await the decision of the judge.

Why continue to throw good money after bad when Luiz Prado’s track record only showed him to be a man of zero integrity. How could we have any confidence in someone, giving him more of our money, who had deliberately destroyed his own equipment in order to hold the boat hostage? We had lost our trust in Luiz Prado a long time ago. There isn’t an honest bone in this man’s body.

The ultimate heart-breaking, mind-numbing fact is that the legal case Luiz Prado brought against us is about money, money, money and Lord Jim is essentially free to go. Luiz Prado refuses to launch our boat even though she has been ready to go into the water since January 2009. He is holding our boat for ransom, thereby essentially holding us for ransom. We are hostages in Brazil by virtue of outright and condoned theft of property.

Sometime before the work recommenced with our new carpenters in August 2008, Luiz Prado had the trilhos (the rails) destroyed. Trilhos are train rails upon which the cradle structure, which supports a vessel out of the water, rests. The trilhos run down into the water and they were obviously in place when the boat was hauled out.

They had to be disassembled by a human being with a large wrench, otherwise there is no way the large bolts which hold the rail pieces together could come apart. Brazil does not experience hurricanes, earthquakes or other types of natural disasters which could perhaps destroy these rails.

More importantly, Luiz Prado has done absolutely no maintenance on the carreira (cradle) in which Lord Jim rests for the entire time the boat has been in the boat yard and it was in a ruinous operating state when we first arrived. Of the 8 required braços (arms) there were only 5 in place when we hauled out; during the first round of work (July 2007) the carpenters took off one braço on the starboard side leaving only one braço in place and never replaced the one they had removed.

During the second round of work (September 2008) one of the portside braços broke off because the metal hinges had totally disintegrated due to corrosion.

Lord Jim weighs 70 tons, it took 3 attempts to pull her out of the water in March 2007 because the steel winch cable broke twice. Lord Jim is now in grave danger of falling over. Someone, like us, or another client or a yard worker could be fatally wounded, not to mention, our boat, our home would be most likely destroyed beyond repair.

We have gone to every agency we can think of for help as we continue to learn how things work (or don’t work) in Brazil. We started with the US Consulate, of course.

They know all about us, that we sank and are struggling in a foreign country under the onus of a foreign language (of which we are now fairly fluent), trying to save our boat.

Lord Jim is a US Coast Guard documented vessel that served in the Second World War on submarine patrol in the Atlantic Ocean. She is an historic topmast, gaff-rigged American schooner that has sailed around the world four times under her present owners.

The US Consulate said they couldn’t intervene in a civil suit and then when we went to them in fear for our personal safety after Flávio Prado attacked my husband with a shovel, they told us to go to the polícia federal.

The polícia federal in Angra dos Reis knows us very well. We have gone to them regularly in order to make sure that our extended temporary permanence in Brazil was and is completely legal. We have kept them and immigration updated on a regular basis as to what has been taking place in Mangaratiba with us and our boat.

The polícia federal sent us back to the delegacia (special police) in Mangaratiba when we expressed our fears for our personal safety. We also went to the mayor of Mangaratiba who at the time said he could do nothing to help us since there was a civil case against us in the primeira instância (the local lower court).

We are hoping to see him again this coming week. Apparently it is the prefeitura which hands out the operating licenses for local businesses and we are hopeful that they will intervene on our behalf.

We have gone to the Marinha (the Navy of Brazil) to tell them of the serious danger there is of Lord Jim falling over and someone getting killed. They allowed us to make a formal complaint and immediately sent two inspectors to review the conditions of the yard.

Apparently there is a report which will be sent to the delegacia (police) or else a similar report will go to the mayor’s office, although we are not at all clear as to what influence their investigation will carry as far as Luiz Prado and Renaman goes.

We use an expression called “passing the buck”, whereby one agency hands us off to the next and ultimately no one has any jurisdiction or is willing to take any responsibility.

Apparently, property theft in Brazil is condoned by all agencies and governing bodies. In addition to the above efforts locally, we have sent letters to Thomas A Shannon, Jr., the United States Ambassador to Brazil; to Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State; and to our 2 California state senators, Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein. As yet no one has intervened on our behalf.

Our story has been published by several international sailing magazines in the early years of our disaster like Velejar (Brazil), Latitude 38 (USA), Voile et Voilières (France) and Yacht (Germany). In the latter part of 2009 we managed to get several Brazilian publications interested in our story. Daily O Estado de S. Paulo and weekly magazine Época were some of them.

Our only salvation at this point is the media. If there is anyone out there who can get us television exposure with Rede Globo this could well be the turning point for saving Lord Jim.
If Brazil is planning to successfully hold a World Cup in 2014 and an Olympic Games in 2016, saving Lord Jim might serve a very special purpose in these ventures.

If Brazil wants to become part of the First World which I have heard president Lula express, then correcting the corrupt and deplorable situation that has befallen a retired married couple who came to Brazil simply as tourists might be a very important gesture indicating that this great country is well and truly on its way to becoming the “new Brazil.”

By the way, our Australian shepherd, Moana, died last year (2009) at the Hospital Universidade Rural in Seropédica, Rio de Janeiro, and she is buried here in Mangaratiba on the land of some wonderful Brazilian friends of ours.

In addition to her sailing career Tracy Brown is a master diver and documentary film producer. You can reach her at  moanarere.marine@yahoo.com


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