Awesome - This Mysterious Boat Washed Up On Ireland’s Coast, And There Wasn’t A Single Trace Of Any Crew

Image: Facebook/Ballyglass Coast Guard Unit
Residents of County Mayo in Ireland got quite the surprise in November 2016 when a ramshackle wooden boat materialized offshore completely out of the blue. Intrigued, officials subsequently went to investigate the mysterious vessel. And when they did they were amazed by what they discovered.
Image: Facebook/Ballyglass Coast Guard Unit
The waters off the west coast of Ireland can be wild at the best of times. So when onlookers caught sight of an unusual vessel bobbing aimlessly in the wintry breakers, their concern was that passengers might be trapped inside, perhaps injured or in trouble. Naturally, they immediately notified the emergency services.
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Michael Hurst of the Ballyglass Coast Guard Unit was among the first to arrive. Speaking to the news network CNN in 2019, he said, “We had received a call from a member of the public to say that a caravan-type vessel had been washed ashore on the west side of the Mullet peninsula, near Drum Beach.”
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Image: Facebook/The Connaught Telegraph
Concerned for the welfare of any travelers on board, Hurst went to investigate the stray vessel. Speaking to British newspaper the Daily Telegraph in 2016, he said, “[At first] I didn’t know what to think; I was just concerned about safety and securing it. Then I thought: where in the name of God did this come from, and who built it?”
Image: Facebook/Michael G Hurst
Indeed, Hurst and his team were left somewhat bewildered once they had managed to secure the boat with ropes and climb on board. There was no captain, nor passengers, nor crew. The vessel was completely empty, with the identity of the owner a mystery. Furthermore there was no indication of exactly how the bizarre-looking craft had come to arrive in County Mayo.
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Image: Tommy Schlather via The Irish Times
Situated on Ireland’s Atlantic coast, County Mayo is the nation’s third most sizable county by area. With a population of just 130,000 people, it has been inhabited since the Mesolithic period (10,000-8,000 B.C.) – a prehistoric era characterized by a shift away from nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyles towards more sedentary, agricultural ways of life. As such, the region is steeped in history, traditions and folklore.
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Indeed, beyond its bucolic hamlets and villages, County Mayo is peppered with a slew of ruined castles and manors, not to mention some very important pilgrimage sites. Among them, Croagh Patrick is considered the most sacred mountain in Ireland. Saint Patrick reportedly spent 40 days praying and fasting there in the 5th century.
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However, it is County Mayo’s sublime natural heritage which it makes it so truly distinctive. Pummeled by bracing Atlantic winds, its brooding landscapes culminate in a rocky, rugged shoreline composed of some of the highest and scariest sea cliffs in Europe. In Kilcommon Erris, for example, the Benwee Head cliffs overlook the ocean with a sheer drop of 900 feet.
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Moreover, the tireless natural forces which have sculpted the coast over eons are so intense and powerful in County Mayo that they represent one of the world’s most potent sources of renewable energy. That said, in recent years, the county’s wild coastal scenery has been somewhat overshadowed by the array of bizarre items that have washed up on its beaches.
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In June 2017, for example, an American tourist found a kilo of cocaine on a beach in the area. Of course, “windfall cocaine” is a relatively common phenomenon in the drug trafficking regions of Central America – fishermen on the Caribbean coast call it “white lobster”. However, County Mayo is located more than 4,000 miles from such smuggling routes, begging the question: how did the package get there?
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A few months later, a seemingly random helmet and lifejacket were found by Mayo fishermen floating among a snarl of nets. It’s now believed, though, that the two items belonged to either Paul Ormsby or Ciarán Smith – two coastguards who disappeared in March of that year after their helicopter crashed.
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Shipwrecks, too, have been found along County Mayo’s coastline. Indeed, the British sailing ship SV Arethusa sank in its waters after it was torpedoed by a German submarine in 1917. In fact, the ship was so damaged by the attack that the crew had no option but to scuttle it with explosives. Its cargo of timber was lost forever, but there were no human casualties.
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Furthermore winter tides and high winds in 2017 uncovered the remains of an ancient ship at Tallaghbaun Beach near Killary Harbor. Buried in sand, a section of the wreck can now be glimpsed at low tide, its weathered timber frame protruding ominously. According to archaeologist Michael Gibbons, the ship could date to the late medieval period.
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As the Atlantic is notorious for its wild and stormy waters, though, shipwrecks perhaps shouldn’t come as too much of a shock. Indeed, the coast of Ireland harbors at least 300 wrecks. Nonetheless, the strange boat that appeared in County Mayo in 2016 generated considerable surprise, partly due to its unusual design.
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Image: Facebook/Ballyglass Coast Guard Unit
The boat somewhat resembled a wooden shack – squat, angular, roughly hewn and, at first glimpse, not at all sturdy. It lacked aquadynamic curves, or, indeed, any obvious indication of which end was the bow and which was the stern. The boat did not appear to be very maneuverable. On the contrary, it appeared to be wholly ill-suited to the rigors of oceanic travel.
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Such was the peculiarity of the boat, in fact, that Hurst dubbed it a “contraption.” But while the exterior of the vessel was weathered, internally it remained in relatively good condition. Speaking to the Daily Telegraph in 2016, Hurst said, “I wouldn’t like to go out on it. But if you were homeless, it would be like a castle.”
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Image: Facebook/Michael G Hurst
Hurst revealed that the boat was made from off-cuts of timber, spray foam and polystyrene. 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 foot wide, 20 foot in length and 10 foot high.
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Now, as we know, when the bizarre boat was found, there was no trace of any crew members inside. This in turn begged the following question: just where had the craft come from – and to whom did it belong? To try and get some answers, the Coast Guard unit decided to investigate the ghostly vessel a little more thoroughly.
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Upon inspecting its interior, the team discovered a message scribbled on one of the walls. And it gave a big hint about who had built the mystery vessel and where it had traveled from. In fact, the ramshackle “contraption” had originated in Newfoundland, Canada. And it had crossed the entire Atlantic Ocean before arriving in Ireland.
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Handwritten with a marker pen, the message said, “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.” However, in some sense, the message was just another unsolved puzzle. Who was Rick Small? Where was he? And why was his boat not in Newfoundland?
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In an attempt to solve these mysteries, Hurst shared a post about the boat on Facebook, complete with photos. Within 24 hours he was swamped with messages. Speaking to CNN in 2019, he said, “There was a lot of interest in it, something strange like that coming up on the shore.”
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Hurst soon deduced that the Rick Small in question was probably an eco-adventurer based in Ontario, Canada. What’s more, he had developed quite the reputation for traveling in unusual ways. In fact, he once journeyed 4,375 miles from British Columbia to Newfoundland on a tricycle powered by solar energy.
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Having established the boat’s probable owner, the Irish Coast Guard then got in touch with authorities in Halifax, Canada. Needless to say, the Canadian officials were shocked that the vessel had made it so far. And, somewhat worryingly, they informed Hurst that Small had been intending to sail the boat across the Atlantic himself.
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Image: Kathryn Welbourn via Twitter/Anton Savage
Fortunately, however, they had 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.”
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The vessel had almost certainly been carried across the ocean by the Gulf Stream, a fast-running and energetic ocean current that connects the two continents of America and Europe. Beginning in the Gulf of Mexico, the stream skirts the peninsula of Florida, runs north along the eastern seaboard of the United States, arcs past Newfoundland in Canada and then heads due east across the ocean, eventually arriving in Ireland.
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The current was first discovered in 1512 by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León and it was subsequently utilized by expeditions traveling from the New World to Spain. Writing in his ship log in April 22, 1513, the adventurer described it thus, “A current such that, although they had great wind, they could not proceed forwards, but backwards… the current was more powerful than the wind.”
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Nonetheless, Small’s “contraption” was still incredibly fortunate to have made it across the ocean. For during its transatlantic journey, the Gulf Stream merges with the North Atlantic Gyre – a system of vast, circular currents that tends to capture floating debris and contain it within the enormous mass of human rubbish known as the North Atlantic Garbage Patch. As such, objects caught in the gyre’s flows don’t usually escape.
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After the news of the vessel’s remarkable journey spread across the internet, a few people revealed that they’d seen the boat before it had drifted away from its moorings in Canada. And, unsurprisingly, they were stunned that it had survived a trip across the Atlantic Ocean. “It is amazing how it got here,” Hugh Gillespie shared on Facebook.
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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!”
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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 its rightful owner having one year in which to claim it. But in the weeks and months after the vessel washed ashore, Small didn’t contact the authorities.
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And despite efforts to find and inform him of the boat’s discovery, the Canadian seemingly couldn’t be reached. All of which meant that an immediate decision couldn’t be made on the boat’s future. Nonetheless, 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.
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Image: TIMOTHY JOHN EWART via BBC
Among the interested parties was the non-profit group Men’s Sheds, which 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. Indeed, the vessel’s arrival on the beach had drawn flocks of hundreds of onlookers, so it was hoped that a permanent beachfront residence for the boat might boost local tourism.
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In any case, speaking to The Mayo News, Hurst explained that many people wanted the bizarre boat to remain in Mayo. He said, “If the vessel is not claimed and it remains in Ireland, we would like to see it kept locally. There has been a lot of interest in it. And the feeling locally is that because it came ashore here, it should remain here.”
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Ultimately, three years went by before the elusive builder of the boat was finally contacted by the media. And naturally, they quizzed him about his motives. Speaking to Canadian broadcaster CTV in 2019, the 62-year-old inventor explained that he had constructed the boat to help publicize the impacts of climate change.
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Small said, “[I was going to] go from Newfoundland around the Arctic to here in the summer… to show that the ice is disappearing.” However, there had been a major snag with his plan. He had been unable to find the correct motor for his vessel. So he decided to give the whole thing away instead.
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Of course, Small’s environmental concerns are just as relevant today as they were then, and arguably more pressing still. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the international organization at the forefront of climate change research – Arctic sea ice has been declining since 1979 and greenhouse gas emissions are the principal cause. In fact, the Arctic Ocean is now warmer than it has been in about 4,000 years. And the summertime Arctic melt season appears to be getting longer by a magnitude of five days per decade.
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Image: NASA
Before long, the Arctic may be completely ice-free in the summer. And this poses significant risks, because Arctic ice plays a critical role in planetary stasis. It both cools the polar regions and reflects sunlight into outer space. Without ice, the Arctic Ocean is forced to absorb more energy from the sun, thus potentially accelerating the processes of climate change and Arctic warming.
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Image: Twitter/Pat McGrath
Meanwhile, Small’s houseboat has been refurbished by a local team comprised of the coast guard and members of the public. It is now stationed in a community garden in Binghamstown. Locals have extended an invitation to Small to visit the region and reunite with his pioneering craft, but there is no word yet if he intends to make the trip.
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Still, if Small does cross the ocean, he may well do it by boat. Speaking to the British newspaper The Guardian in 2019, he indicated that he intends to build another solar-powered sea vessel. And if it turns out to be anywhere near as robust as the first, he stands a good chance of making it across the Atlantic. “It didn’t sink,” Small said to CTV in 2019. “I must have done a good job, eh?”
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That said, Small may not be able to rely on the power of the Gulf Stream to quite the same extent as sailors of prior generations. According to a study published in the journal Nature in 2018, the Gulf Stream has lost approximately 15 percent of its power since the 1950s. It is now weaker than it has been in 1,600 years. Of course, with climate change set to weaken it further, Small’s environmental concerns are all the more pertinent.

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