The Boston Globe

‘I don’t know what he was thinking’: Man accused of setting boat adrift from Nantucket wharf

Courtesy of Bruce Beebe
This boat, known as "Fair Play," was set adrift from Old North Wharf on Oct. 16. Courtesy of Bruce Beebe


Disputes over parking spaces have been known to escalate from time to time. But an outburst last month over a borrowed slip at a Nantucket wharf went way overboard.

On a Sunday morning last month, a man went over to the Old North Wharf, spotted a 32-foot boat docked in his assigned slip, and quickly took matters into his own hands, police said. He untied the offending vessel, setting it adrift on the water and leaving his space free and clear.

On an island where devotion to fishing and boating runs deep, the reported outburst has prompted outrage and disbelief. In untying the line of a stranger’s boat, the resident clearly crossed one, many said.

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“It’s just one of those kind of like marine rules that you never do,” said Patricia David, who manages the Old North Wharf. “That would be like if somebody parked in your parking space, for example, and you start the car and let it go off on its own. It’s like a driverless car.”

The unfastened boat ended up causing damage when it made “contact with other vessels,” according to an official from the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

In her 25 years managing the wharf, David said she had never heard of someone intentionally unmooring a boat. She named the person as Marc Wolpow, the chief executive of a Boston private equity firm, and said he texted her afterward and apologized for his actions.

“He came down, saw somebody in his slip, and rather than wait to find out an explanation . . . he acted rather impetuously and untied the lines because it didn’t belong there,” she said. “It was a really stupid thing to do, basically. I don’t know what came over him . . . I’m sure he regrets it.”

The man who docked the boat at the slip, a local fisherman named Bruce Beebe, reported the incident to police and the harbormaster. According to the police report, Beebe said he was the caretaker for the vessel, a Hunt center console boat with twin 300-horsepower Yamaha engines.

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Police have not identified who was responsible and redacted the person’s name from its report, refusing to comment further. Wolpow could not be reached for comment.

Beebe said he had been given permission by the president of the wharf cooperative to dock the vessel, named “Fair Play,” at one of the empty slips at Old North Wharf. He left it there around sunset, and when he returned after attending Mass the next morning, it was nowhere to be found.

“I checked on it at about nine o’clock, and it was gone,” said Beebe, who also named Wolpow as the person who set his boat adrift.

It was found about 2½ hours later across the water to the north, where it had run aground. Orange stickers with dark lettering that read, “PARKING BY PERMIT ONLY, VIOLATORS WILL BE TOWED,” had been placed on the electronics monitors, he said.

This boat, known as “Fair Play,” was set adrift from Old North Wharf on Oct. 16. – Courtesy of Bruce Beebe

Beebe told police the boat sustained minor damage after drifting into another vessel.

“He was unsure if any damages occurred to the engine or lower units,” the police report stated.

On Oct. 24, police in Nantucket asked the Massachusetts Environmental Police to help with the investigation, a state official said.

Police have not indicated whether Wolpow might be cited or charged. Because the investigation is ongoing, the environmental police said it could not disclose any potential charges or penalties Wolpow might face.

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The incident was first reported by the Nantucket Current.

David, the wharf manager, said Wolpow had taken his boat out of the water for the season, but she did not give anyone permission to use his slip.

David said she thinks if Wolpow had waited to hear the full story — and realized that the fisherman was keeping the boat there for a relatively short time before delivering it to a client — he would have let it stay there.

“If he’d have waited a little bit, like maybe half an hour, he would have said OK — I know he would have,” she said.

That the boat drifted ashore with only minimal damage was fortunate, she said.

“Nobody was hurt. It could have been worse,” she said. “There’s a ferry lane, you know. It could have washed up on the rocks, anything could have happened.”

David said she had heard of people threatening to untie a boat in the heat of a dispute, but never imagined it would actually happen.

“Here on the wharf, we’re all very community-minded, and we look after each other,” she said. “This was an exception.”

Andrew Brinker of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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