Fort Lauderdale — A popular floating restaurant that sailed the Fort Lauderdale Intracoastal Waterway, selling food to other boaters, sank Sunday.
Everyone on the boat was okay, as it sank in shallow waters, but the boat’s owner described it as a “total loss” after one of its pontoons — a hollow cylinder on the bottom of the boat that keeps the vessel upright and stable — blew out, causing it to lean over and partially sink.
“S*** happens,” Jay Lycke, owner of Jay’s Sandbar Food Boat, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel Sunday afternoon. “Everybody’s safe. That’s the important thing. That was a very intricate piece of machinery.”
Earlier in the day, Lycke posted a video from the food boat. It was surrounded by other boats and people in the water: “Sandbar is jumpin’ today, people! It’s only 12 o’clock and it’s packed. Gonna be a very, very cool Mother’s Day.
“Happy Mother’s Day everybody, from the crew of the Sandbar Food Boat,” he says in the video. “We are cooking and we’re feeding.”
Glen Kuhne took a photo of the overturned boat, showing it submerged in the water at about a 45-degree angle with several people in the water nearby.
Kuhne was with his family in the water enjoying Mother’s Day when he spotted one of the food boat’s pontoons detached and bobbing around in the water. He said the pontoon was likely anchored because when the wind picked up moments later, the boat started drifting away while the pontoon remained where he initially saw it.
About 15 minutes later, the second pontoon also detached from the boat, causing it to start turning onto its side. Police and rescue boats were there within minutes, but everyone appeared to be safe, he said.
After speaking to officials at the scene, Lycke began running short trips, using the smaller delivery boats to take equipment and anything else he could salvage from the food boat to the shore, Kuhne said.
“I just felt sorry for the guy,” said Kuhne, 57, of Plantation. “I just hope he has insurance.”
In a post on the boat’s Facebook page, another witness expressed grief for the loss and gratitude for the crew’s safety: “We saw it happen and were heartbroken,” the commenter wrote. “We were glad to see you get out safely!!!”
Countless other commenters expressed their sorrow and condolences to Lycke and his family and workers.
The U.S. Coast Guard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
[ RELATED: Gator bites and bikinis: Jay’s Sandbar BBQ feeds hungry boaters aboard Fort Lauderdale’s only floating restaurant ]
“Every one is ok, stabilizer pontoon snapped at the sandbar we regret this is a total loss,” the boat owners posted on Facebook around 2:30 p.m. “Boat flipped and sunk while we were serving food everyone got off just 4 feet of water.”
The boat’s crew served fusion food, ranging from jalapeno-stuffed, bacon-wrapped alligator bites to Hong Kong-style pork, calamari, clam nachos and more. Lycke was a boater and a chef and got the idea to build a food boat around 2017 after enjoying himself at food truck events but noticing nothing like that on the water, he told the Sun Sentinel in a 2020 feature article.
He would cook up fresh catches brought by customers, and he also offered a vegan option for vegans and vegetarians — pita bread topped with hummus, fresh tomatoes and basil and drizzled with a vinaigrette and tzatziki sauce.
He’d fill about 150 orders per day on the busy Intracoastal Waterway. Lycke’s teenaged son would even deliver food to boats anchored further away from a small, motorized inflatable boat.
“There’s nothing better than drinking and having food delivered to you by a boat 50 feet away,” one customer told the Sun Sentinel in an interview in 2020 after eating the gator bites.
Lycke built the boat in about three months at a boatyard off State Road 84 using his life savings of about $75,000 at the time.
Food boats like Jay’s Sandbar are common in Florida, but for years, he had the only one in Fort Lauderdale. Others currently sail throughout Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
“It sucks because we were basically a national treasure out here, so that’s what really sucks,” Lycke said. “Everybody loved that thing.”
Lycke said he was “devastated” in a Facebook post after the sinking on Sunday and vowed to rebuild.
“Keep your friends close, they can be gone in a minute,” he wrote. “It could have been much much worse, my crew is more important than anything they stuck by me for 3 years, it was never easy but we enjoyed you guys, we will rebuild.”
A GoFundMe was set up by one of Lycke’s workers Sunday evening. Their goal is to raise $85,000 to remove the wreckage and build a new boat.
Sun Sentinel staff writer Philip Valys contributed to this report.
Austen Erblat can be reached at email@example.com, 954-599-8709 or on Twitter @AustenErblat.