PORT TOWNSEND — As the tide went out Tuesday afternoon, Tyler Vega, captain of the Ninaa Ootaki, lay on the shore of Beckett Point to inspect the freshly uncovered hull of the beached vessel.
“That’s an easy fix,” he said as he eyed just one of the repairs that needs to be completed before the 78-foot schooner is sea-worthy again. “That piece is less than a day’s work.”
But there is still much work to be done before Vega is able to have the stranded boat removed from Beckett Point, something he hopes to have accomplished in the coming days.
He said that since the boat washed ashore during a storm Dec. 20, he has worked day and night to repair the fiberglass hull, constantly fighting the tide.
As the tide goes out, he and others who have been helping him drain water from the hull to facilitate beginning to make repairs. It’s a constant battle and the window to accomplish any work before the tide comes back in is narrow.
Vega believes the best-case scenario is that repairs will be done within four days, though it could be more than a week before the Ninaa Ootaki is ready to sail again.
“It’s pretty easy stuff at this point,” he said. “The hard stuff is done.”
But for the Ninaa Ootaki, the path forward is anything but clear.
Vega said there are people from Haida Gwaii, an archipelago off British Columbia’s coast north of Vancouver Island, who are prepared to take the ship when she is seaworthy, but what complicates the matter is that it isn’t clear who actually owns the vessel.
Vega said he sold the ship to a friend last year, but the paperwork didn’t go through properly. Vega said he became responsible for the vessel when he tried to prevent it from running ashore and he does not want to leave the residents at Beckett Point holding the bag.
“It’s not their fault … and it’s not their responsibility,” Vega said. “It’s the antithesis of everything I stand for to leave this on the beach.
“My mission in life is to help people who need help and clean up the world, so to leave a 50-ton piece of garbage on my neighbor’s beach is just completely unacceptable.”
At this point though, Vega said he is committed to getting the boat to the Haida Gwaii and he is ready for the boat to go someone else. He loves and cares for the vessel, he said, but he said it’s time for him to let it go.
“I’ve been trying to get rid of this boat for two years,” he said. “Other than the fact that my life is unstable enough now that I may need a place to live … I’m ready to let this boat go to them.”
Salish Rescue, an organization dedicated to helping improve on-the-water safety in the Puget Sound, has been working with Vega to get the boat off Beckett Beach, but the last effort at the start of the year was unsuccessful.
If the Ninaa Ootaki becomes sea-worthy again, Vega said it will be because of Salish Rescue’s help in getting it off the beach.
Erik Wennstrom, director of Salish Rescue, believes there is much more than a few days work needed to remove the boat from Beckett Point.
“The current issue is she is not sea-worthy,” Wennstrom said. “He couldn’t put it out there and the Coast Guard wouldn’t let us do it.”
A voyage to Canada seems far off, Wennstrom said. In addition to the damaged hull, there are questions about whether the engine and rudder work.
“She’s not in worse shape than she was two months ago, but the holes in the hull make it immovable for us,” Wennstrom said.
Wennstrom said that while Salish Rescue has worked with Vega, it has also been working with the Beckett Point Homeowners Association to manage expectations and make the residents aware of how to take legal action.
“They may be forced to remove it at some point,” Wennstrom said. “They are aware this could take months or a year before it is resolved.”
Homeowners association personnel declined to comment on this story.
“Everybody would love to see this succeed and for Tyler to sail off into the sunset, but the longer it sits on the beach the less chance he has of doing that,” Wennstrom said.
For Vega, the Ninaa Ootaki represents his dreams. It was to be his headquarters when he was a progressive candidate in the race to represent Washington’s 6th Congressional District last year.
He also saw the ship as a housing solution for people who don’t fit in with mainstream society.
“A lot of people don’t fit into the system, so I’ve always looked for ways to empower people who don’t fit in,” he said. “Everybody I know who is counter-culture or doesn’t fit in, rather than living in the streets they do better on boats.”
He said he became a mariner so he could work to clean the oceans and throughout the years has become in possession of larger and larger boats as he worked toward his dreams.
“All of that leads toward this dream that we could have a positive impact and right now that looks like a pipe dream,” he said. “Maybe this is just one of the lessons that needs to be learned.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].