Sail Martha’s Vineyard, the Island’s nonprofit youth sailing program, has been the victim of repeated vandalism at its boathouse headquarters on Lagoon Pond in Oak Bluffs. This week, the program installed surveillance cameras and motion detection lighting to deter vandals who have already caused more than $9,000 in damages, director Brock Callen said.
The program is housed at the town’s Sailing Camp facility in a wooded area off Barnes Road. Mr. Callen said a long series of weekend vandalism incidents escalated on the weekend of July 31 through August 2, when someone broke into a locked storage facility, removed gasoline, and dumped it around several structures.
“That’s getting too close to the edge for me,” Mr. Callen said. “They literally tore the doors off our flammables shed, proceeded to dump it all over one end of the boathouse, around that shed, and around the porta potty. They’ve taken it to a new level, where the expense is such that we’ve got to take a more aggressive stance.”
Oak Bluffs police say they have kept a closer watch on the camp since June, when the vandalism was first reported. The boathouse is located on the shore of Lagoon Pond, down a narrow dirt road from the Sailing Camp main building.
Lieutenant Tim Williamson said evening and midnight shift officers check the area as often as possible. “It’s a very difficult area to patrol,” said Lt. Williamson. “You don’t just drive down there. Where we are very short-staffed, there are times we don’t get down there.”
Sergeant Michael Marchand said Sail MV is taking the right steps to prevent vandalism. “They have some really good ideas to keep this from happening again, or if it does happen, to catch them,” Sgt. Marchand said.
Mr. Callen said police have done what they can, but he knows it is a difficult assignment for the department. “I understand it’s a limited force,” Mr. Callen said. “It’s a busy town, and we’re kind of off the beaten path. What is going to solve the problem are the surveillance cameras. They’re 24/7, with recordings that can be preserved for two weeks.”
The non-profit Sail MV provides summer sailing programs for more than 200 young sailors from age eight to 18, as well as a variety of other sailing programs, instruction, and events for adults throughout the year. Mr. Callen said the vandalism at the Sailing Camp boathouse began last summer, and continued when the program resumed this summer. One troubling incident involved one of the outboard motor boats used to supervise instruction, carry equipment, and respond to sailors who need help.
“One of the Whalers, they tied it to a stake on the beach, started it, put it into reverse, basically it excavated a hole four feet deep under the propeller until it ran out of gas,” Mr. Callen said.
He said vandalism to Sail MV’s fleet of six 420’s, the 14-foot racing boats used by more advanced sailors, reduced the fleet to just four boats last week. He has since repaired another boat, so five boats are now available.
“We’re maxed out, we’ve got waiting lists for everything,” Mr. Callen said. “When you lose a boat it has an immediate impact.”
Other vandalism includes stolen tillers and rudders, destroyed fittings, and floating docks set adrift in Lagoon Pond, and damage to buildings and equipment on shore.
The rudder, tiller, and tiller extension assembly for the 420 costs more than $600, according to Mr. Callen. Replacing a gooseneck fitting takes more than two hours of time, and $70 worth of hardware.
The 420’s were stored on a floating dock off the shoreline, with all of their equipment aboard. Power boats were stored on moorings with keys left aboard.
“The Vineyard is changing,” Mr. Callen said. “Certainly we could have taken the keys out, certainly we could have taken the tillers out.” He said removing the equipment, however, creates its own problems. “If you pulled keys every time, you’d end up losing more of them,” Mr. Callen said. “Those rudders get put in the boathouse, the kids take them out, they are getting whacked two to three times a day. We can better maintain the equipment by leaving it on the boats. That can’t happen anymore. Now the equipment comes ashore every evening, and the outboard engines are disabled. ”
Malice or mayhem?
The Oak Bluffs conservation commission manages the Sailing Camp. “We can’t believe anyone would target Sail MV,” commission chairman Joan Hughes said. “This last routine where they really destroyed boats, and sprayed gasoline on the ground, is really beyond vandalism.”
A caretaker lives on the grounds, on the opposite end of the property from the Sail MV boathouse. Ms. Hughes said the caretaker couldn’t watch the boathouse at all hours. “It’s a very difficult thing,” Ms. Hughes said. “Getting down that road and around the corner takes serious effort. We don’t know when this is happening. You can’t hear anything.”
Based on reports from others who have observed young people around the boathouse at night, Mr. Callen believes the vandalism is the work of malicious teenagers, not someone who has a grudge against Sail MV. “We happen to be at the wrong place,” Mr. Callen said. “It’s a hangout for a certain age group of kids at night. Sooner or later they’re going to make a stupid mistake, or they’re going to brag about it in the wrong place.”
Mr. Callen said Sail MV is fully insured, but has not yet filed any claims to recover the cost of the vandalized equipment. He is concerned that if claims are filed, the nonprofit organization’s premium costs will rise. The board of directors must decide soon whether to file insurance claims.