Tar-covered ghost vessel from Canada hits Ireland. Passive-aggressive note provides only clue to its origins.
A mysterious solar-powered boat assembled from scrap wood and tar has ploughed into western Ireland only weeks after it was abandoned on a Newfoundland beach.
While out for a Sunday walk, a resident of Ireland’s County Mayo “came across an unusual type of vessel washed up onto the shore,” read a Monday statement by the Irish Coast Guard.
When a local unit of the Ballyglass Coast Guard showed up, they found a peculiar homemade boat covered in tar with solar panels bolted to the roof. Written in sharpie on the vessel’s interior was a cryptic note: “I, Rick Small, donate this structure to a homeless youth to give them a better life that Newfoundlanders choose not to do! No rent, no mortgage, no hydro.”
The note got the story picked up immediately on Newfoundland social media. Within hours, locals began posting their own images of the peculiar craft — and recounting their meetings with its mysterious builder.
“He lived in the woods in Foxtrap, Conception Bay,” wrote Ted Perrin in a post to the Ballyglass Coast Guard Facebook page. “He once yelled at me for ‘destroying the earth’ with my 60hp Evinrude E-Tec,” added Perrin, noting the specifics of his outboard motor.
Originally from Thunder Bay, Ont., Rick Small had travelled to St. John’s, N.L. on the “Light Rider,” a solar-powered tricycle he built himself. The rig, which has likely been seen by thousands of Canadian highway travellers, was essentially an e-bike hauling a small trailer outfitted with solar panels.
Small has been on the road since the spring of 2013. After first taking the tricycle to Victoria, B.C., Small appears to have doubled back and made for the east coast.
Local newspaper accounts have Small in the Victoria area in January, 2014. By June of 2015, CBC Newfoundland and Labrador was noting his approach to St. John’s.
At the time, Small told the broadcaster he was trying to “show people the ability of the sun … and what you can do with it.”
From there, Small appears to have lived for a time in Conception Bay South, a community only a short drive from St. John’s.
There, he constructed a floating version of the Light Rider. Witness accounts from the area reported that the craft was built from cheap lumber, sealed with tar and provided buoyancy with foam insulation. The vessel’s only power was an electric motor powered by an array of solar panels on the roof.
According to locals who spoke to him, Small’s plan was allegedly to cross the Atlantic or to return to Victoria by way of the Northwest Passage.
Either way, Small got only about 20 km up the Newfoundland coast before abandoning the project.
“I saw him on the bay his first day out,” reported Ted Perrin on Facebook. “Flat calm no seas at all……the next day or so after we had north east winds which are bad here. Guess he found out quickly that the North Atlantic is no joke.”
The craft’s last known Canadian whereabouts were in Portugal Cove-St. Phillip’s, about 30 minutes’ drive north of Small’s starting place in Conception Bay.
Despite Small’s apparent wish for the abandoned vessel to become a shelter for homeless youth, instead it appears to have been cast adrift almost immediately.
The vessel’s last reported sighting in Canada was on September 30th. This means that Small’s craft was able to traverse 3,100 km of the North Atlantic in less than 45 days. At an average of 69 km per day, the boat drifted towards Northern Europe at roughly the speed of a slow walk. The extremely buoyant boat rode high in the water, which would have allowed winds to push it eastwards more easily than a traditional vessel.
The National Post was not able to get in touch with Small, and his whereabouts remain unknown. The Ballyglass Coast Guard reported Sunday that they “managed to secure” the bobbing vessel. On Monday, officials are set to haul the boat off its final resting place at Cross Beach and tow it away for disposal.
Small’s craft is only the latest chunk of Canadian debris to hit Ireland. Due to eastward moving Atlantic currents, Western Irish beaches are frequent hosts to trash, capsized vessels and messages-in-a-bottle thrown from Atlantic Canada.
Most recently, in early 2013 the Irish Coast Guard had to be on guard for the M/V Lyubov Orlova, a rat-infested Soviet-made cruise ship that broke free from its tow lines while being tugged out of St. John’s, N.L.
Fortunately, however, the ship appears to have been claimed by the stormy North Atlantic long before it turned up on an Irish vacation beach.
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