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October 22, 2012

Beach hazard

Sailboat beaches on island in rough seas

PLUM ISLAND — Mother Nature unceremoniously beached the Wind Walker sailboat Friday onto Plum Island inside the Parker River Wildlife Refuge between parking lots 1 and 2.

Its two crewmen were rescued by a nearby fisherman who witnessed the sailboat running aground at about 5:30.

And it was Mother Nature again yesterday, aided by a crew from TowBoat/US in Salisbury, that righted the craft based out of Gardiner, Maine, and transported it back into the Atlantic. From there, the approximately 20-foot, single-masted sailboat was brought to the Newburyport docks where it will remain for the next few days.

Local TowBoat/US co-owner Michael Goodridge spent yesterday morning and afternoon behind the wheel of a tractor digging a channel on both sides of the tilted sailboat. Sculpting the channels with a shovel was longtime employee Jim Whipple. The two also built a sand reef in front of the boat so that the churning surf would break in front of the boat.

Once the roughly 8 1/2-foot tide came in, the two men placed float bags underneath the keel and waited until it straightened out.

“We’re hoping for a nice calm entry,” Goodridge said earlier in the day.

Beachgoers enjoying unseasonably warm weather watched the operation with interest, many taking photos on their cellphones. At one point, a medium-sized dog began digging sand near the boat, prompting Goodridge to jokingly comment about his company’s newest and furriest employee.

TowBoat/US was initially hampered in its efforts by the high surf, which pushed the boat about 50 feet south up the beach. Each time high tide returned, it flooded the cabin and pushed fresh sand against the vessel’s sides.

Goodridge said the towing operation would likely cost the owner of the boat thousands of dollars, but added that it appeared the owner didn’t insure his boat.

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