Trio takes sailboat with no rudder for short spin in Penn Cove

The Penguin, a 25-foot sailboat, is left tied to Penn Cove pier Thursday evening after being taken for a ride by two men and a woman. Holed and taking on water, the vessel had sunk by the following day. - Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times
The Penguin, a 25-foot sailboat, is left tied to Penn Cove pier Thursday evening after being taken for a ride by two men and a woman. Holed and taking on water, the vessel had sunk by the following day.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times

After being taken for a ride by three would-be mariners, a sailboat that had been beached at Grasser’s Lagoon for months is now sunk beside the Penn Cove Pier.

At about 8 p.m. Thursday, police responded to a 911 call of a sailboat in distress. The  vessel, a 25-foot O’Day named the Penguin, was reported to be taking on water and was drifting toward land.

Police and emergency responders from North Whidbey Fire and Rescue arrived to the find the boat deserted, listing badly but tied to the pier. Two men and a woman were found walking away up Penn Cove Road.

On Monday, Island County Sheriffs Office spokesman Det. Ed Wallace identified the men as Oak Harbor residents Samuel Smith, 19, and Alan Brown, 20. Both were taken into custody on unrelated charges.

He declined to identify the young woman, 19. Unlike the two men, she didn’t have any outstanding warrants so was not taken into custody.

The three told officers at the scene that they had read in a local newspaper that the boat was abandoned. Believing it was free for the taking, they decided to take the derelict vessel for a ride.

But the would-be sailors may not have thought the entire venture out. While it appeared they either tried or planned to raise the vessel’s mainsail, as it had been unsecured from its lashings, the boat’s rudder was missing.

Without a means to steer, even with propulsion from the sails, the boat would just sail around in circles. More than likely, the joyriders didn’t realize the crucial piece of equipment was missing until it was too late when they were away from shore with no way of turning back.

Not having a rudder may have been a stroke of good luck, however. After months of sitting on the rocky beach, the boat was taking on water. Had they gotten further away from shore, they would have been facing the ugly prospect of being on a sinking sailboat about an hour before dark.

It’s unknown whether there were life jackets onboard, but none of the three was wearing one when they were found by police.

Ownership of the vessel is unclear. The boat first appeared at the head of Penn Cove last year shortly after Oak Harbor began dredging its marina. At the time, the boat was owned by Arne Nielsen.

It remained at anchor there most of the winter until it broke free and was beached. The vessel was eventually re-floated but wasn’t anchored far enough out to keep it from being repeatedly grounded on beach rocks.

At some point in recent months, the boat began to take on water and it has remained partially submerged ever since.

“We’re calling it abandoned,” Wallace said.

Although the boat was still afloat late Thursday night after it was left tied to the pier, it sank sometime during the night. Pier owner Ian Jefferds, who was out of town at the time, is now left with the headache of figuring out what to do with it.

He said he also is trying to nail down just who owns the boat and is looking at ways in the meantime of having it removed from along side the pier so it doesn’t damage the structure’s pilings.

Because ownership of the vessel is unclear, no one involved in the incident was arrested on charges of theft of the sailboat.

“Right now, we’re not treating it as a stolen vessel,” Wallace said.

Smith was taken into custody for a probation violation, and prior trafficking of stolen property, possession of marijuana and minor operating a vehicle after consuming alcohol.

Brown was arrested for a prior malicious mischief charge.

According to Wallace, if someone were to come forward and prove ownership, the vessel’s status as abandoned could change. But until that happens, no crime was committed, he said.


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