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Mystery yacht has Hampton Beach talking

A yacht that ended up on a beach near Alicia Preston’s house in Hampton, N.H., has been the topic of rumors.

Joanne Rathe/Globe staff

A yacht that ended up on a beach near Alicia Preston’s house in Hampton, N.H., has been the topic of rumors.

HAMPTON BEACH, N.H. — The rumors began swirling just as soon as the giant empty yacht crashed into the marsh here.

A popular one was that it was to be blown up in a Denzel Washington movie, though no one seems to know where that came from. Then there was the one about how it was being used as a set to film pornography. Still others whispered that it was used for drug smuggling.

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And it went on from there. It’s hard to stop a small town on a gossip roll, and what a roll it has been.

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Ever since the Guest List, a 70-foot yacht with no motor, no furnishings, and seemingly no purpose, broke free of its mooring this winter and marooned itself on the salt marsh just a few yards from a row of houses, the residents of this popular New Hampshire beach town have thrown around all sorts of theories in an attempt to answer the question: Where did this behemoth come from and why is it still just sitting there?

The truth, it turns out, has just as many twists as a Denzel Washington movie, and it involves a Miami couple on a serious string of bad luck.

Marcelo Nunes, 41, and his wife,
Andresa, bought the boat in Newburyport last year, and then had it towed to Hampton Beach so that Mike Wheeler, the owner of the Hampton Harbor Boatworks, could install motors. The couple planned to sail it to Miami, park it at a marina, take the motors out and sell them, and turn the 3,000-square-foot interior into a home for them, their three children, and the family dog.

“When I first entered the boat, the feeling for me was that this was my ideal home,” Andresa Nunes said in a phone interview. “We were going to install solar panels so we would be completely sustainable. We could travel and stay anywhere we want. It was the dream.”

But when the Guest List arrived in Hampton Beach, a whole bunch of things began to go wrong. First, the couple lost several thousand dollars to a man they bought twin diesel motors from, Wheeler said. When they went to claim the motors, with the plan to drive them to New Hampshire, the shop had gone out of business and the man was nowhere to be found.

Meanwhile, the couple had already sold their house in Florida and moved to Brazil temporarily, where Marcelo Nunes was planning to run a security company for this summer’s soccer World Cup. “But that turned out very bad,” Andresa Nunes said. “The money is all gone.”

Just when it seemed like things couldn’t get any worse, the boat began to show what Nunes called its “personality.”

“It was like ‘I don’t want to go anywhere. I want to stay right here,’ ” she said.

Twice, the Guest List broke free of its mooring in the Hampton River, and the second time, it crashed sideways into the salt marsh just next to the Hampton River Marina, where Hampton Harbor Boatworks is located.

Alicia Preston, who lives next door at the end of Tuttle Avenue, said she watched the ship twist in the current until it seemed to be coming straight for her front door.

“It kept getting closer and closer,” Preston said recently, as she stood at the end of her property line, checking out her new neighbor, stuck in the muck just a few feet away. “And here she’s been ever since.”

Preston, the campaign manager for Andrew Hemingway, a Republican running for governor of New Hampshire, has been very vocal about wanting the ship moved. She has gone so far as to hire a lawyer to figure out what the deal is, and even tweeted at Denzel Washington a few times, telling him to come get his boat.

The problem is that when the boat ran aground in the marsh, a strut tore through the bottom of the boat, ripping a hole and filling the back of the boat with water. That would mean it would need to be repaired, and the ship is so large that the nearest boatyard capable of fixing it is in Newburyport, a few miles down the coast in Massachusetts.

But the Newburyport boatyard had no place to put the boat until the yachts wintering there went back on the water, so Wheeler said that after consulting with state officials, the decision was made that the safest thing to do was turn the boat so it was facing the shore and less likely to tip over, and then leave it there for the winter until the repairs could be made. Because it has no engines or gas tank, it’s not leaking anything.

But now that summer is nearly here, there’s another major catch: While the couple was in Brazil, they had accidentally let their boat insurance lapse, Wheeler said.

So now the Guest List sits, just outside the tiny office where James Patnaude, who runs the service center at Hampton Harbor Boatworks, spends his days. He’s so sick of looking at the ship that he’s closed his blinds. He also no longer argues with people who insist the boat was from a Denzel Washington movie.

The couple originally traded a stretch Ford Excursion and some cash for the vessel, Patnaude said. Now the repairs will cost up to $8,000, plus as much as another $8,000 for new motors.

But Andresa Nunes said they probably won’t be motor shopping again. Once they come up with the money for the repairs — she hopes to have that in early June — she said they will probably sell the boat where it is. “When I talk about the boat, I get very excited, but I’ve come down to reality,” she said from Mexico, where she has moved temporarily with her family while they try to get their life back on track.

In the meantime, the Guest List has become a tourist destination in Hampton Beach. Carol Paul, who owns the Coffee Break Café, said people come in regularly asking for directions to the mystery “ghost ship.”

As for Preston, as she stood on the marsh and stared at the boat that looms over her tiny cottage, she acknowledged that the situation was funny, “But it’s also, OK guys, enough. Let’s get it out of here.” She has told her neighbors that if Hemingway is elected governor, the boat will be gone.

And now that the facts are coming out, she admits that she’s a little disappointed that the truth got in the way of a good story. “I still wish it was Denzel’s boat,” she said.

Billy Baker can be reached at billybaker@globe.com.

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