Salvage Efforts Failed, Looters Descend on Grounded Boat

Running Free, a 36-and-a-half foot sailboat that ran aground at Norton Point beach, Martha’s Vineyard, MA on Friday, was still languishing on the beach Wednesday morning after salvage and refloating efforts failed. Meanwhile, visitors to the site were reported to be stripping the boat of its contents as it remained lodged in its sandy berth.

“People are looting the boat. The owner of the boat has lost everything. Everything he has is on that boat. And people are stealing it,” said Katie O’Connell, Chappaquiddick superintendent for The Trustees of Reservation.

“This is illegal activity. We are trying to keep people away,” Ms. O’Connell said. The Trustees, which manage Norton Point beach, do not have enough staff to guard the boat, she noted.

The sailboat made its way to shore last week after being abandoned in May in the Bermuda Triangle.

Bill Heldenbrand, the owner of Running Free, said he was sailing alone from Green Cove Springs, Fla. with the ultimate goal of crossing the Atlantic Ocean. After seven days at sea, the novice sailor encountered high winds and huge seas, and was rescued by a passing oil tanker. His boat charted to unknown destinations for nearly two months until it was spotted coming ashore last week by Nancy and Bruce Hulme.

“We were sitting on the beach when it approached the shore and we contacted the Coast Guard when it was clear no one was aboard,” Mr. and Mrs. Hulme said in an email to the Gazette. The couple looked up the owner of the boat online and reached out to him via Facebook.

On Monday Mr. Heldenbrand said he was driving from Georgia to Cape Cod to retrieve the sailboat, which he had arranged to have towed to Falmouth.

That move was supposed to be completed Monday, but success has so far been elusive. Dan Carpenter of TowboatUS Falmouth said that an aluminum boat used to try and recover the sailboat was itself damaged Monday when a tow ripped off during a big pull.

“There were no injuries and everyone was okay,” said Mr. Carpenter. He said plans are now under way now to use a larger vessel, a 50-foot tugboat from New Bedford, when the tides and currents are favorable later this week.

In the meantime, Ms. O’Connell urged onlookers to leave the contents of the boat untouched, and to steer clear of the grounding area, which is a breeding area for rare birds.

“A colony of endangered terns is right next to where the boat came aground. Onlookers are trespassing through the bird colony,” Ms. O’Connell said. “That is a huge problem. This is one of the most successful breeding sites.”

Courtesy of

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