, Gloucester, MA

May 14, 2013

Newburyport 'ghost ship' on the block

By Dyke Hendrickson
Staff Writer

---- — NEWBURYPORT — Maritime lore has much to say about ghost ships, but few annals of the sea indicate whether these craft can be resold at a good price.

City officials here are auctioning off a 37-foot Endeavour sailboat it took title to after its owner was lost over the side and presumed drowned, his body never found.

At a recent meeting of the Harbor Commission, members said that an online auction is under way to get rid of the sturdy green vessel.

If there are landlubbers who think a vessel is terminally jinxed if its captain is lost, a recent review of the online auction bids indicate that fully 24 prospective buyers have made bids on this empty craft.

“The family of the deceased did not come forward and the boat became city property,” said Brad Duffin, chair of the Harbor Commission.

“The city pulled it onto land and had it winterized. When a sale is made, the money will go to the city.”

The highest bid for the boat thus far is $9,110, according to the website, where it is being showcased. Those interested can bid until May 29.

The fiberglass vessel, built in 1980, has gone on the auction block following a fatal accident last fall. The owner, Richard Decker, fell off the vessel and into the chilly Merrimack River on Nov. 15, according to police. Decker was a German national who had lived in the area for several months before buying the sailboat with the intent of using it as his home.

Decker’s disappearance was first suspected when his dog was found tied to a post at Cashman Park. The Coast Guard discovered his swamped dinghy tied to the stern of his sailboat, which was located on the Salisbury side of the river opposite the park.

Gradually, a theory emerged to explain what must have happened: Decker planned to row his dinghy to his boat, then motor it back to Cashman Park to pick up his dog. A rope became entangled in the sailboat’s propeller, and when Decker attempted to free it, he fell into the river and drowned.

A search was launched but his body was not found. The sailboat was in working condition when Becker disappeared, and it can berth six people. It is equipped with a Detroit Diesel engine of 50 horsepower.

Prospective bidders can tour the craft by setting up an appointment with Harbormaster Paul Hogg.

Tales of ghost ships have been around docks for many years. A simple definition would be that of a craft upon which no one is living, or a derelict ship found on the water with its crew missing or dead.

Numerous paintings and a few movies over the years have been titled “Ghost Ship.” In 2003, the film “Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl,” the Black Pearl was depicted as a “ghost ship.”

Harbor Commission members have made no predictions on the price that might be fetched for the vessel, but Duffin said, “The city put money into this effort, so when a sale is finally made, I don’t know that a huge profit will be realized.”

On another matter relating to boats and navigation, those on the Harbor Commission heard at its Thursday meeting that Hogg is negotiating to buy two large engines to propel the city’s new public-safety craft.

The harbormaster recently obtained a 25-foot boat from the Coast Guard (inventory) for free. However, it has no engines.

Hogg is in the process of negotiating for two large (225-horsepower) outboard engines. When it is outfitted, the craft will be used by police for scuba searches, by the fire department for firefighting tasks and by the harbormaster for all-around search and rescue.

Dyke Hendrickson can be reached at