Residents of County Mayo in Ireland got quite the surprise in the fall of 2016 when a boat appeared on a local beach completely out of the blue. And when officials subsequently went to investigate the mysterious vessel, they were amazed by what they discovered.
The waters off the west coast of Ireland can be wild at the best of times. So when an unusual boat was spotted bobbing about aimlessly on the ocean in November 2016, onlookers were deeply concerned for any passengers that might have been trapped inside. As a result, a rescue crew set out to recover the vessel and bring it to dry land. But when the team got inside the boat, they were shocked to discover that no one was on board.
Situated on Ireland’s Atlantic coast, County Mayo is geographically the nation’s third most sizable county and has a population of over 130,000 people. Furthermore, the area is known for its imposing rocky sea cliffs – some of which are among the tallest in Europe.
But Mayo’s majestic coastal scenery has been somewhat overshadowed in recent years by the bizarre array of items that have washed up on the county’s shores. In June 2017, for example, an American tourist found a kilo of cocaine on a beach in the area. Then a few months later, a seemingly random helmet and life jacket were discovered. It’s now believed, though, that the latter two items belonged to either Paul Ormsby or Ciarán Smith – two coastguards who disappeared in March of that year after their helicopter crashed.
Shipwrecks have been found along the area’s coastline, too. Indeed, the British sailing ship SV Arethusa sank in its waters after the vessel was attacked by the Germans in 1917, while the remains of another wreck emerged in 2017. As the Atlantic is known for its wild and stormy waters, though, shipwrecks perhaps shouldn’t come as too much of a shock. However, that didn’t stop 2016’s strange boat-based discovery from surprising many of the people involved.
On an autumnal day that year, locals spotted an unusual houseboat near Cross Beach before subsequently informing the authorities. Understandably, Coast Guard and lifeboat crews then hurried out on an emergency mission to recover anyone who might still be inside. But after securing the vessel with ropes, the rescue crew were bewildered to discover that there wasn’t anybody on board.
One of the first people on the scene was the Ballyglass Coast Guard Unit’s Michael Hurst, who notified another Coast Guard crew before rushing to the beach to help. “I didn’t know what to think; I was just concerned about safety and securing it,” he told The Daily Telegraph. “Then I thought: where in the name of God did this come from, and who built it?”
Indeed, the vessel was unusual in itself. Hurst revealed that the boat was made from off-cuts of timber, spray foam and polystyrene, while it also had solar panels and Perspex windows. What’s more, the mysterious vessel was fairly small for an ocean-going craft, measuring approximately 12 feet wide, 20 feet in length and 10 feet high.
Such was the peculiarity of the boat, in fact, that Hurst compared it to a “floating caravan.” But while the outside of the vessel was weathered, internally it remained in relatively good condition. “I wouldn’t like to go out on it. But if you were homeless, it would be like a castle,” Hurst added.
Now, as we know, when the bizarre boat was found, there had been no trace of any crew members inside. This in turn begged the following question: just where had the craft come from? To try and get some answers, the Coast Guard unit decided to investigate the ghostly vessel a little more thoroughly. And on closer inspection, the team discovered a message scribbled on one of the walls.
Happily for the team, the handwritten note gave them a big hint about both the mystery boat builder and from where the vessel had originated. “I, Rick Small, donate this structure to a homeless youth to give them a better life that Newfoundlanders choose not to do!” the message read. “No rent, no mortgage, no hydro.”
From this information, it’s believed that the Rick Small in question is an eco-adventurer based in Ontario, Canada. And the Canadian has developed quite the reputation for traveling across the country in unusual ways. In fact, he once journeyed 4,375 miles from British Columbia to Newfoundland on a tricycle powered by solar energy.
So, once members of the Irish Coast Guard had established the boat’s potential owner, they got in touch with authorities in Halifax, Canada, to let them know of the discovery. Needless to say, the Canadian officials were shocked that the vessel had made it so far. Amazingly, Small had reportedly been intending to sail the boat across the Atlantic himself.
Thankfully, though, the Canadian authorities managed to dissuade him from making the treacherous 4,000-mile crossing. “[The boat] was last seen in Portugal Cove in Newfoundland during the summer, and it broke loose,” revealed a spokesman for the Irish Coast Guard. “The Halifax authorities were amazed it made it to Ireland and was in one piece.”
After the news of the vessel’s remarkable journey spread, some people revealed that they’d seen the boat before it had drifted away from its Canadian home. And, unsurprisingly, many were stunned that it had survived a trip across the Atlantic Ocean. “It is amazing how it got here,” Hugh Gillespie shared on Facebook.
Meanwhile, another Facebook user, Colton McDonald, added, “I worked at a local lumber yard here in Newfoundland. I spent a lot of time helping Rick get the materials he purchased from the yard! Weird character but really interesting… Amazing how far the vessel got. I will have to just speculate on what happened to him!”
Back in Ireland, Mayo County Council had an empty houseboat on its hands, so the vessel was placed into a nearby storage depot. Meanwhile, an official – known as a Receiver of Wreck – was assigned to look after the boat, with the vessel’s rightful owner having one year in which to claim it. But in the weeks after the vessel washed ashore, Small didn’t contact the authorities.
And despite efforts to find and inform Small of the boat’s discovery, the Canadian seemingly couldn’t be reached. All of which meant that a decision couldn’t be made on the boat’s future for at least one year. But with the vessel’s future still in the balance, many groups declared that they wished to take ownership of it. After all, Small had seemingly intended to give the boat away, and the structure needed only minor refurbishments.
Among the interested parties were the nonprofit group Men’s Sheds, which had offered to work on restoring the vessel. Perhaps more bizarrely, it was suggested that the boat could become a tourist attraction on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. The vessel’s arrival on the beach led hundreds of people to flock to see it, so it was hoped that a permanent beachfront residence for the boat might boost local tourism.
In any case, Hurst explained that many people wanted the bizarre boat to remain in Mayo. “If the vessel is not claimed and it remains in Ireland, we would like to see it kept locally,” Hurst told The Mayo News. “There has been a lot of interest in it. And the feeling locally is that because it came ashore here, it should remain here.”