By Donald Wittkowski
Like so many other visitors to Sea Isle City, Erik Wade has ended up on the beach.
It’s how he got there that separates him from everyone else.
In a bizarre scene attracting a steady flow of bemused onlookers, Wade finds himself stranded on the beach on a 36-foot sailboat that is now high and dry.
“With the winds and the tides, I came crashing up on the beach. It was pretty horrible,” he recalled of his abrupt arrival in Sea Isle around 5:30 a.m. Sunday.
He was sailing his boat, named the “Pyrate,” from Boston to Key West, Fla., when he fell asleep Saturday night and his anchor line snapped, he said. The next thing he knew, he had run aground Sunday morning in Sea Isle on the 61st Street beach.
Now his sailboat resembles a beached whale, stuck in the sand a good 50 yards from the ocean at low tide.
Wade fears he may lose the “Pyrate,” the old-fashioned spelling of pirate. The boat serves as his home, but he might not be able to afford to get it towed off the beach and back out to sea.
“Hopefully, I’ll be able to get a tow. I don’t have a lot of money. I put it all into her,” he said of what he has already invested in the boat since he bought it four years ago.
Wade was on the phone Tuesday with a number of marine towing companies trying to get one of them to come rescue him and his boat.
“If a tow boat can’t rescue me, all is lost,” he said glumly.
He explained that he may have to abandon the boat, which he values at about $40,000. If that happened, he believes Sea Isle would be forced to call in a towing contractor and then would have to auction off the sailboat to pay the company.
Sea Isle spokeswoman Katherine Custer acknowledged that Wade simply “can’t stay there as long as he wants.” However, she made no mention of any possibility of the city taking charge of the boat.
“We want to get a good result and see him get on his way,” Custer said.
Custer said she understands Wade has been working with his insurance company in hopes of getting the boat towed off the beach when the tide conditions are favorable, possibly on Thursday.
Wade said Sea Isle officials have discussed the possibility of using a bulldozer to clear sand away from his boat to make it easier to tow it into the water.
In the meantime, police are checking in on him every day to make sure he is all right. A local resident has offered Wade a place to stay, Custer said.
Wade said other residents have shown him hospitality by giving him coffee and sandwiches. But he has become annoyed with other bystanders who simply walk up to the boat to take selfies without asking his permission.
“Some people have been really nice. But others have been rude,” he said.
Husband and wife Rick and Stephanie Pinter, Sea Isle residents, were among the onlookers Tuesday who could hardly believe that a sailboat was trapped on the beach.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Rick Pinter said. “I’ve lived here all my life in Sea Isle.”
“It’s pretty amazing,” Stephanie Pinter added.
Another bystander, Judy Patterson, of Sea Isle, politely asked Wade if she could take his photo on her cellphone. He consented.
“Are you going to be able to get out to the ocean?” Patterson asked.
Shrugging his shoulders, Wade told her he was unsure how his predicament would turn out. He smiled when Patterson assured him, “You’re in a friendly town.”
The 40-year-old Wade is no bon vivant living a life of luxury on the high seas while cruising back and forth between Boston and Key West. He said he is a union bridge painter who left Boston after his work dried up when the fall weather turned cold. He was sailing to Key West to escape the harsh New England winter.
Wade moved from his native Seattle to buy the steel-hulled sailboat in North Carolina in 2014. He did not disclose the purchase price.
“She was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “That’s why I left Seattle. I had an opportunity to buy her and could not turn it down.”
The boat, a bit battered from wear and tear over the years, largely is in need of cosmetic improvements, he said. He noted he has been investing in it to make it a better home.
“I spent most of my life in Seattle until I bought this boat. It is my home. It is my dream. I don’t want to lose my home,” he said.
With his eye on the tides and the hope of finding a towing company he can afford, Wade is anxious to get back on his way. He said a new moon scheduled for Thursday might push the tides high enough for a tow company to pluck him off the beach.
“We’re hoping that Thursday is the day. But it could be Friday or Saturday,” he said.
But for now, the beached sailor and his beached boat remain an odd attraction in Sea Isle. Wade estimates that 200 people have already come up for a close look.
“I’ve never had so much attention before. I know this doesn’t happen a lot,” he said.