GLOUCESTER — It was just past 1:30 a.m. in the middle of a howling wet night on Cape Ann when two Gloucester police officers walked onto the rocky beach in Stage Fort Park.
A thousand feet to their right, in a minefield of giant boulders, a sailboat was smashed port-side against the rocks and getting pounded by the ocean.
The sailor had called 911 to say he was abandoning ship, according to police reports. But there was no sign of him on deck, and it took the officers a ton of slipping and falling on seaweed-covered rocks the size of refrigerators just to get close enough to yell.
Finally, a man emerged from the cabin, but the officers could only get within 20 yards of the boat and the wind made it impossible to hear each other. The gales and waves kept hammering the boat, and it listed further and rotated on the rocks with the man below deck, and appeared to be in danger of capsizing, according to police.
Eventually, the man launched a small life boat and gathered supplies to take with him. “The sailor kept going below deck,” Officer Clifford Alves wrote in his report. “It appeared he was looking for a life jacket, but he came out of the cabin with a skateboard and helmet.”
He never did grab a life jacket, or an oar. When he finally jumped in the raft he was adrift as police failed to reach him with a throw rope. Eventually, the waves and the incoming tide carried him safely across the boulders to shore.
The officers helped him to an ambulance, and bits of his story began to emerge.
He told them he was a homeless man from Sweden named Christian Hayden, and he was sailing to Maine. He said he was sleeping aboard the boat when it broke free from its mooring and got blown into the rocks.
Other than that, he evaded questions, according to police. “It appeared,” Alves wrote, “that he really didn’t want us to know what actually happened.”
The only thing he seemed to care about was getting out of there and finding someplace to sleep, and he soon disappeared with his skateboard into the night. That was on Nov. 7.
“We’ll never see this guy again,” said T.J. Ciarametaro, the Gloucester harbormaster, who took over the mess of what to do with the boat, the Nomadic, which was continuing to get pounded as the wind blew for three days straight. “We figured out that was a fake name — the guy from Star Wars who plays Darth Vader, Hayden Christensen.”
As for what to do with the sailboat, Ciarametaro said “Vader” had left the city with the chore of getting it out. “If you asked me the worst possible place to have a boat go aground, he nailed it.”
No boats could get anywhere near it, and they needed a large ship to drag the Nomadic painfully over the rocks, its hull wincing with the sounds of a boat that will never sail again.
The boat was hauled out to be salvaged, and upon inspection, Ciarametaro said the cabin was filthy and the hull was covered in two inches of mussels. “Wherever he was going he wasn’t going fast,” he said. “I can’t believe he could sail this thing honestly.”
Authorities also found a New Hampshire driver’s license for Clinton Piper, of Plaistow, which they’ve determined to belong to the sailor. They’ve been unable to reach Piper, but his family told police he is homeless and this was the fourth sailboat he’d destroyed in a crash or by washing up on shore.
Ciarametaro said they’ve learned the boat, which was purchased in Maine two months previous, spent time in Salem harbor weeks ago, but they know nothing else about its journey.
To tow it and salvage cost the city close to $10,000, Ciarametaro said, “but if we’d left it out there it would have been in a million pieces all over the harbor for five years.”
A voicemail left at a number listed for Piper was unreturned. The Nomadic has been cut up and scrapped.