By Dave Rogers Staff Writer
Newburyport Daily News
---- — 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.
The names and addresses of the boat owner as well as the two crewmen, who were taking the boat from Maine to Florida, were not available yesterday. The U.S. Coast Guard’s media office in Boston did not return a phone call from The Daily News, and workers at the Coast Guard station on the Merrimack River in Newburyport said they were not authorized to release any information.
Steve Dombroski of Dracut, who rescued the two sailors, said he was fishing Friday when he noticed a sailboat coming very close to the beach. The sea was rough, with waves of 5 to 7 feet in height, if not larger, he said. Dombrowski is among the relatively few people who has a federal permit to bring his four-wheel-drive vehicle onto the beach for overnight fishing and camping.
Dombrowski called for emergency help and stayed with the two men until Newbury emergency workers arrived. The crewmen, both described as being in their 60s, were OK, Dombrowski said.
At the time of the accident, the tide was going out — it was about three hours after high tide. The area where the accident occurred is known locally to have shallow sand shoals.
The task of removing the sailboat from Plum Island was far different than another recent high-profile boat rescue. In late June, an antique, 20-foot wooden sailboat anchored in the middle of the Merrimack sank to the bottom after water seeped in between natural imperfections in the seals between the planks.
In that instance, a scuba diver attached several thick yellow balloons to the sailboat, which, once filled with air, provided 24,000 pounds of lift. Slowly, the boat emerged from the dark water, its masts followed by the green hull. Once the boat was high enough out of the water, it was towed to Merri-Mar Yacht Basin off Merrimac Street.
“That was a totally different challenge,” Goodridge said.