Nearly three weeks after a windstorm pushed the Nina Otaki aground at Beckett Point, the 78-foot schooner is still stuck on the beach.
On New Year’s Day, a group of neighborhood volunteers, the crew on the historic 130-foot yacht Northwind and the Salish Rescue group attempted to pull the Nina Otaki off the beach during high tide.
Hooking up a line from the Nina Otaki to the Northwind, the team flipped the sailboat so it leaned toward the sea.
“A 60-ton vessel does not move easily,” said Erik Wennstrom, education director with Salish Rescue, a volunteer organization that provides assistance to boaters in the Puget Sound. “We are going to continue our efforts to get it off the beach. But there is a possibility we won’t be able to.”
Salish Rescue volunteers rescued the Nina Otaki when it ran aground in September 2017 on the beach at Fort Worden, but the tides and the weather now are more difficult to work in.
“The odds are against us,” Wennstrom said. “Last time it was summer, there were higher tides. Now we’re dealing with weather, tides and also the boat is in worse condition than it was before. We aren’t sure if we will be able to haul it out so it can get repairs.”
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?
While the Nina Otaki continues to rest on the beach, the question becomes who is responsible for its removal?
“This case started three weeks ago when the vessel washed ashore during a high tide and a high wind event,” said Brett Ettinger, lieutenant commander chief of incident management with the U.S Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound. “We went out that day but couldn’t reach the vessel due to the weather.”
The day after the Nina Otaki washed up on shore, the Coast Guard defueled the boat and removed some oil to prevent contamination, Ettinger said. But trying to contact the owner proved to be tricky.
“After removing the oil threat, we turned it over to the state Department of Natural Resources,” Ettinger said. “DNR does have the vessel on its list for removal.”
Ettinger said the Coast Guard’s main responsibility is to remove the oil. After that, the boat falls into state jurisdiction.
“When we first had the report, we contacted the current owner who was not responsive, so we contacted the previous owner,” Ettinger said.
The previous owner is Tyler Vega, who lives in Port Townsend and ran for the Progressive Party in Washington’s 6th Congressional District during the 2018 primaries. Vega said he owned the boat for two years but sold it to a friend three months ago. Since then, Vega said he hasn’t seen his friend.
“I’m being held responsible for it,” Vega said. “It’s a big problem that the neighbors of Beckett Point will have to deal with if I don’t.”
Vega originally bought the Nina Otaki in 2016 from the boat’s builder. In an interview he did last April with Uphill Media’s John Ellis on the YouTube show, “We the People,” Vega discussed his plans for the Nina.
“The idea was that it would be a lot of things, including a progressive politics headquarters,” Vega said in the interview. “It could be a stage when parked on a pier. You could put a sound system on board, put a candidate there, put a band there and have a really rocking time. And then it can go off to anchor and move about and be a place where those who really want to dedicate their lives to positive change will have a safe place to do so.”
In the same interview, Vega said it was hard to find the resources needed to care for the boat and make his dream happen.
“The ship is a drain on resources and on time,” Vega said. “Even though I love it with a passion, it takes a lot from family time.”
Vega said he submitted the paperwork noting the sale of the vessel to the Coast Guard in September, but he does not know what the status of ownership is.
“We are running with this case as if there are possibly two owners,” Ettinger said. “At the moment, we just aren’t sure who owns it.”
Despite confusion over ownership, Vega said he is going to continue to dig and use anchors and wenches to move the boat bit by bit. He hopes that with the help of friends and volunteers, the Nina Otaki will float once more.
“It’s a really valuable vessel,” Vega said, adding if he is held responsible for the boat, he hopes to fix it up and sell it. “I’m going to have to readjust my life. Right now, every day is spent between trying to take care of my children and trying to get the boat off the beach.”
A group of Vega’s friends has started a GoFundMe account called “Spirit us off the beach,” and raised $1,065 as of press time. The money will be used “for the fuel costs of getting the ship off the beach ... pay for Salish Rescue, and making sure the ship is sustainable once off the beach.”
DEALING WITH DERELICT VESSELS
Although Vega said the Nina Otaki is in good enough condition to keep in the water, Wennstrom said he was unsure if the engine was running properly, and that further damage may have been caused to the boat while trying to drag it off the beach.
According to state statute, DNR’s Derelict Vessel Removal Program is responsible for addressing the problem of derelict or abandoned vessels in Washington’s waters. But that program comes at a cost to taxpayers.
“It happens unfortunately with increasing regularity,” said Eric Toews, deputy director at the Port of Port Townsend.
Toews said when there is a derelict vessel on port property, the port can obtain custody of the vessel in order to remove and demolish it.
“After an entity disposes of a vessel, it can receive reimbursement for the cost,” Toews said. “But DNR’s derelict vessel fund is currently tapped out.”
DNR’s website states that “due to a continued increase, both in dollar and number, of reimbursement requests and the Derelict Vessel Removal Account’s low level of funds, the Derelict Vessel Removal Program will be accepting reimbursement applications, but will be withholding payments until June 2019.”
When it comes to boats at the port’s Boat Haven and Point Hudson haul-out facilities, Toews said the port takes care to ensure boat owners will not abandon boats on port property.
“We require vessels to be insured and registered,” Toews said. “There are standards to ensure that we’re not left responsible.”
The Nina Otaki is now listed on DNR’s list of “vessels of concern,” which are ranked by priority for removal funding based on condition, size and danger to environmental and public health.
The DNR considers the use of the program the last resort when it comes to a derelict or abandoned vessel, program manager Troy Wood said.
“We are currently monitoring the vessel’s situation and the owner’s removal progress,” Wood said. “As long as the owner is being responsive and the vessel is not endangering human safety or the environment, it is out of the program’s scope but not our concerns.”