Extensive Coast Guard search for boat owner ends with a phone call

The discovery of this Hobie Cat near Tashmoo Friday night spurred an extensive search. Photo courtesy Coast Guard.

Updated 1 pm, Monday, Sept. 1

The search, Saturday morning, by air and sea for the owner of a catamaran found washed up on the beach late Friday near Lake Tashmoo on Vineyard Sound ended when the owner called the Coast Guard and explained that he was safe.

By the time the search came to an end at about noon on Saturday, boat crews from Station Woods Hole and Station Menemsha, the Coast Guard Cutters Ridley and Hammerhead and an HC-144a Ocean Sentry search aircraft from Air Station Cape Cod, as well as Coast Guard Auxiliary Aircraft aircrews, had taken part in a search for possible people in the water.

“A case like this illustrates why it’s extremely important for folks to document their vessels and make them easily identifiable,” Richard Elliott, the command duty officer at Sector Southeastern New England, said.

The search began when the caretaker for the Sawyer-Nichols property west of the Tashmoo opening found the sailboat just on the beach and called Tisbury police. The man was concerned because the sail was up, the rudder was down, and it did not appear as there had been any effort to pull the boat up on the beach, Sergeant Chris Habekost told The Times.

“There was no sign of anyone around and he was concerned that someone might be in the water,” Sergeant Habekost said.

Initially, watchstanders at Sector Southeastern New England received a call at about 10 pm, Friday from the Dukes County Communications Center that the unmarked 13-foot Hobie Cat Wave model was washed ashore with the sail up and the rudder down, Coast Guard officials said in a press release. It was reported to the Coast Guard that the Hobie Cat had “lines hanging and dirty footprints on the deck.”

In response, the Coast Guard initiated a search of the surrounding waters.

Tisbury assistant harbor master Jim Pringle said the Hobie Cat appeared as though someone had been out sailing and got knocked off the boat, causing it to just just sail up on the beach. The boat is normally anchored just off a beach house not far away, he later learned.

It was not until the owner, Peter Gray, of New York, a seasonal visitor staying in his family’s cottage not far from where the boat was found, called police to report his Hobie Cat was missing, that the mystery of the washed-up boat was solved.

Mr. Pringle said the Coast Guard invested a lot of resources in the search for “nothing.” He said the harbor department is constantly urging people to identify their small boats, including sailboats and dinghies, so owners can be speedily located in just this type of event.

Reached by phone for comment, Mr. Gray provided the following statement.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to sincerely apologize and express my humble gratitude to my neighbor David, Tisbury Police, the Tisbury Harbor Master, and, most importantly, the U.S. Coast Guard, Sector Southeastern New England, for their swift and comprehensive response to what might have been a far more tragic storyline. We are so lucky to live in this country where we enjoy such exceptional maritime safeguards. I’d like to try to draw some good from this incident by reiterating Officer Richard Elliott’s simple, critical message: clearly label all of your small craft with your name and cell phone. That small step on my part would have prevented this minor oversight from escalating into what it became.”

The Vineyard chapter of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary provides free “If Found” labels, according to Chris Scott, Flotilla Commander, 11-2, D1NR. “We encourage owners of all small craft such as Hobies, sunfish, canoes, kayaks, dinghies, paddleboards, etc. to use them,” he said.

The labels are available at West Marine and the harbormaster’s office.