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Oak Bay man, 83, in good spirits despite loss of boat he called home

Dec 31 2011
Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary members watch over the burning remains of Fritz Schreiner's boat home Thursday. 

Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary members watch over the burning remains of Fritz Schreiner's boat home Thursday.

Photograph by: Darren Stone, timescolonist.com

The man whose boat — and home — was destroyed by fire in Oak Bay was in good humour Friday and quick to clarify that he is 83, not 84 as originally reported.

"I'm an old man but not that old," said Fritz Schreiner, whose concrete-hulled vessel moored in the bay, north of the Oak Bay Marina, burst into flames shortly after midnight Thursday.

Schreiner was just about to go to bed in the boat he has called home for the past five years when he noticed smoke on the ceiling. He opened the hatch for fresh air and the oxygen fed the fire. "The whole thing was a sheet of flame."

Schreiner tried to extinguish the fire with water, but the diesel burn was hard to deal with. Nearby boaters rescued him from his boat. Schreiner tried to get back inside for his miniature dachshund, Lucy, but the heat was too intense and the dog died. "That is the biggest heartbreak."

Oak Bay Sea Rescue, part of the coast guard auxiliary, was soon on the scene, followed by the coast guard, as well as B.C. paramedics and the Oak Bay Fire Department. Schreiner was impressed with the response. "The paramedics were the best in the world."

Schreiner, who thought he was fine, was taken to Royal Jubilee Hospital and treated for smoke inhalation then discharged. He is staying with his former wife and their 16-year-old son. He has had many offers of support from his numerous friends in the community and well-intentioned neighbours.

His worldly possessions went up in the fire, but Schreiner is not that bothered, other than about his photographs and his dog. "I shop at Value Village anyway," said the former cobbler, adding that he "doesn't really like sympathy."

As for the experience of being in a burning boat in the dark, Schreiner brushed it off. "I've sailed for 40 years. I've been on reefs in the Caribbean. I've been in the last war. I know all about fighting to stay alive. This is unpleasant, naturally, but I'm a tough old bugger."

Schreiner opened the Cobbler on Oak Bay Avenue in 1981 and has been an avid sailor since moving to Victoria from Edson, Alta.

Bob Hall, a friend of Schreiner, said Schreiner bought the boat in the U.S.

Hall researched it to find that it was professionally built in Seattle by naval architect John Simpson.

The interior was teak and "very comfortable," said Hall, who spent many hours on board.

Schreiner did not have insurance, as concrete boats are notoriously hard to insure, Hall said.

The hull is now on the ocean floor. Hall and Schreiner are trying to detach the mast above the waterline.

The area where the boat caught fire is under the jurisdiction of the Canadian Coast Guard. The fire was allowed to burn out because the boat was unsafe to board and not close enough to other vessels to pose a danger, the coast guard said.

The sunken vessel is not an environmental risk, but will be assessed to see if it's a navigational hazard.

Neighbour Terri Kambites put up a poster collecting donations of blankets, clothes or food for Schreiner and within minutes people were showing their generosity, she said.

Kambites said anyone who wants to donate can contact her at her home,

1526 Beach Dr., or email happymom2005@hotmail.com.

kwestad@timescolonist.com

— with files from Katie DeRosa

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