Tisbury harbormaster’s boat sinks

Unoccupied vessel sank at dock for reasons unknown.


Updated 2:50 pm

The Tisbury harbormaster’s boat sank at the Owen Park dock Thursday morning due to causes not yet known. Tisbury Harbormaster John Crocker said his assistant, Will White, discovered the submerged vessel at 8 am Thursday.

Marine salvage and construction expert John Packer and a team from his company, Offshore Engineering, arrived at Owen Park Thursday morning with a crane barge to raise the vessel. A team from Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard was also on scene to assist with raising the vessel and pumping it out, as was professional diver Heidi Raihofer. Propelled by the tugboat Sirius, the vessel was taken on the hip of the barge across Vineyard Haven Harbor to Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard, where it was hauled out on a boat hoist. Crocker, who is off-Island, said he was told by James Hale of Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard that Hale had found no obvious clues to why it sank. The shipyard will “pickle” the twin 250 hp outboard engines in an attempt to salvage them, Crocker said, by flushing them with water and steeping certain parts with oil. 

Harbor Dept. staffer Kim Elias said based on video footage she reviewed of the dock, the vessel was completely submerged around 8 am but had been low in the water prior to that. Nobody could be seen meddling with the vessel in the video, she noted.  

“It was one hundred percent when I put it to bed yesterday at 4 pm,” Crocker said. Crocker said he was “absolutely shocked” when he learned it sank and presently has “zero” idea as to the cause.

Tisbury Assistant Fire Chief Greg Leland said the department is aware of the sinking and examined the scene this morning. The 30-foot custom vessel serves more than one role, as it has equipment for firefighting and can also be used as a police boat. However, Tisbury Fire Chief John Schilling said the firefighting system on the vessel is not operational and hasn’t been for some time. Schilling said the Tisbury Fire Dept. has a different vessel at its disposal for marine firefighting, so what befell the harbormaster’s boat won’t impact the ability of firefighters to respond on the water. Schilling said there was “a great community response” to the sinking. In particular he lauded the seamanship of John Packer and the tugboat captain in light of the close quarters they had to work in with such a large barge. Schilling said the barge Packer would typically have used for the salvage operation was in Edgartown, so he had to improvise and did so impressively. 

The town bought the vessel in 2011 from Texas boatmaker Welded Boat Co. with a port security grant. The total purchase price was $265,126.80, according to Tisbury town accountant Suzanne Kennedy. The price included $15, 616 worth of electronics, an invoice shows. It’s unclear if any electronic equipment survived submersion.


  1. Why does everything bad happen in Tisbury? I’m so happy to live in OB where there is competent leadership.
    Isn’t the Harbormaster the Emergency Manager as well? If he can’t even maintain his boat, how is he going to deal with a real Emergency? What happened to the previous Emergency Manager?

    • obgull– we have no idea as to why this boat sank. To imply that the harbormaster was somehow at fault is a bit out of line— we will find out what happened soon enough.
      If it was in fact his fault , then you will be free to criticize the man’s competency.

      • Dondon- I am just glad nobody was hurt, what happens if there is an emergency now? Believe me, boats just don’t sink randomly, it is the harbormasters responsibility to maintain his vessel. That vessel has had about as much maintenance as the Tisbury School! I also think it’s unusual that the Harbormaster is performing his own investigation into the incident (per vineyard gazette write-up) and not a third, independent party. There is no transparency in the Town of Tisbury!

  2. You would think in this day and age there would be a device that goes off when a boat takes on water.

  3. Every responsible boat owner has dual bilge pumps to prevent this. Lets hope there are cameras in the area to see if there was any sabotage.

  4. “The total purchase price was $265,126.80”
    Are you kidding me? Who approved that waste of my tax dollars???

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