Updated July 13
The Tisbury Harbor Department’s Tashmoo pumpout boat came close to sinking on the afternoon of July 9 at Lake Street Landing. The boat appears to have been tied up and unoccupied. Tisbury town administrator Jay Grande said as soon as he heard the boat was in trouble, he contacted harbormaster John Crocker, who was on scene at the time. Grande could offer few details, but said the boat was taken out of the water, and he expects Crocker will have a report for him on Friday. It’s unclear if that report has come. In an email to The Times Monday morning, Grande wrote that the town has arrived at a possible explanation for what happened.
“The preliminary finding is that the water left on the deck, tank was ¾ full, and bilge pump not working were the contributing factors that caused the near sinking,” he wrote.
The tank Grande referred to is an effluent tank. The boat’s duty is to collect wastewater from other boats.
Friday morning, local mariner Lynne Fraker told The Times she was in a dinghy paddling from her sailboat Ena with her 8-month-old puppy Cassie when she spied something wrong with the pumpout boat at around 5 pm. “I’m there all the time, so I recognize something that looks off,” she said.
The only other person down there was Larry Gomez, a newly elected member of the select board, she said, who’d just finished kayaking.
The boat was tied up, taking on water through its scuppers, and trimming to its stern.
She and Gomez stood on the bow to get the engine out of the water, she said: “We wanted to save the engine.”
Gomez later clarified it was he and Wendy Andrews who wound up on the bow.
“I just stood on the bow with my girlfriend,” he said.
Crocker arrived with a pump, she said, but didn’t have a battery for it, so she got one from her boat and got the pump going. Grande noted harbor department staffer Kim Elias joined Crocker in the endeavor.
Before long they had another pump going too, as more help arrived, but they couldn’t outpace the water coming in through the scuppers, Fraker said. Eventually someone gave them rags, and they stuffed the scuppers with them and got ahead of the water. Fraker said the boat was poised to roll over and under without their intervention.
“That boat has had problems with those scuppers before,” she said. She described the scuppers on the pumpout boat as fairly large.
Eventually the pumpout boat was dewatered and trailered away to the Tisbury DPW yard.
Fraker suspects the way the boat was tied up may have caused it to take on water.
She noted the pumpout boat was originally an inboard diesel vessel, but the former harbormaster chose to alter it. “Jay Wilbur hated inboard diesels,” she said. “He insisted that the boat could be converted to an outboard.”
He wanted more speed, she said. After the conversion, she said, concerns about the stability of the boat lingered.
In a letter to longtime Vineyard Haven mariner Eugene DeCosta, former assistant to the town administrator Asa Jones outlined some information about the conversion of the vessel.
“Replacement of the diesel inboard engine and jet drive on the Metalcraft Marine
Tashmoo pumpout boat became necessary after continued problems with the engine
during last season,” she wrote. “A decision to replace the inboard engine with a 150 HP outboard engine was deemed a reasonable and proper solution. The change from an inboard design to utilizing an outboard engine required considerable modification to and rebuilding of the stern of the vessel to accommodate an outboard engine. The marine firm of Winninghoff Boats of Rowley, Mass., proposed to undertake the work associated with modifications to the stern of the Metalcraft Marine pumpout boat in return for retaining ownership of the Yamaha diesel engine and the Hamilton jet from our pumpout boat. Harbormaster Jay Wilbur discussed this proposal with town administrator and chief procurement officer John Bugbee, who checked with town counsel about the appropriateness of allowing this arrangement and was given the green light to move ahead. The town later received a grant to pay for the 150 HP outboard engine replacing the former inboard in the Tashmoo pumpout vessel, and purchased a new engine from Edgartown Marine after going [through] an approved procurement process.”
The emergency that arose with the pumpout boat reminded Fraker of the sinking of the harbor patrol boat.
Tisbury’s harbor patrol boat, Rock Salt, sank at the Owen Park dock in October. A marine surveyor found an unsecured hatch and a bilge pump failure were at the root of that sinking.
“They just swept it under the rug,” Fraker said of the select board. She said she expected accountability, but there’s been no reckoning.
Crocker couldn’t be reached for comment.