Not a Starship not afloat: Once stuck-in-ice vessel is now on bottom of St. John River

This is all that's visible of the sailboat that was frozen into the ice of the St. John River over the winter.  (Roger Cosman/CBC - image credit)
This is all that's visible of the sailboat that was frozen into the ice of the St. John River over the winter. (Roger Cosman/CBC - image credit)

The owner of a sunken sailboat has until the end of the month to get it out of the water, according to a deadline set by Transport Canada.

The department "has determined that the Not a Starship vessel has the potential to present a hazard to navigation, and a deadline of April 30, 2024, has been set for its removal," Transport Canada communications adviser Katherine Proulx said in an email.

She said the department is working with the owner to make sure the sailboat is removed in a "responsible manner."

"If the deadline isn't met, the vessel will be deemed as abandoned under the Wrecked, Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels Act, and the owner could face enforcement actions, including monetary penalties."

Sailboat owner Jordan Tatton has not responded to several requests for an interview.

WATCH | How the winter took its toll on this boat:

Local residents have expressed concern about the sailboat for months — even long before the river froze.

Rob Thom was one of them. The Greenwich resident said the sailboat was originally anchored in front of his home before two December storms dragged the boat to the cove in front of Beulah Camp.

He said he was worried about the environmental damage should the boat sink. The boat, after all, was equipped with a diesel engine, a generator and the batteries necessary to operate the solar panels.

Even at the time the boat first started to stink, the Coast Guard said it wasn't concerned about pollution.

Within days, spokesperson Debbie Buott-Matheson said there was a "minimal amount of non-persistent oils" on the vessel, meaning the type of fuel on board would have evaporated from the surface of the water within 48 hours.

Michael Heenan and Roger Cosman/CBC
Michael Heenan and Roger Cosman/CBC

The New Brunswick Department of Environment said it was not involved in the case. A spokesperson said Transport Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard are the lead agencies.

Thom is also concerned about the hazard the sunken vessel presents to boaters, especially with the 17-metre (56-foot) mast — and a second shorter one — protruding above the surface.

Although Thom has seen a few boats already on the water, he said the danger will increase significantly as the boat traffic increases with warmer weather.

Roger Cosman/CBC
Roger Cosman/CBC

As a member of the local fire department, he said they're not equipped or authorized to respond should someone strike the boat and need assistance.

"So when it comes out of the water, it'll be a sigh of relief for us for sure," he said.

'Gut punch' for previous owner

For residents who have been following the story of the Not a Starship, it's been a bit of a slow-motion train wreck, but for the boat's previous owner, it's been a "gut punch."

Trevor Laird said someone he didn't know sent him a message through LinkedIn and said simply, "Somebody sank your boat."

"I was floored to be honest. I told my wife — it almost brought tears to her eyes."

He said the boat is "a one-of-a-kind."

WATCH | From sailboat to shipwreck: 

"Not a Starship is essentially a boat built with love. It's a handcrafted ship that doesn't match anything else that's been made or mass manufactured."

And its name is a bit of an inside joke for the Lairds. As "space nerds," they would often travel to see SpaceX's Starship rocket launches.

When SpaceX's founder Elon Musk famously created and sold flamethrowers, it created a bit of a stir because of the potential dangers of putting the devices into the hands of the public. Not long after, the product was renamed "not a flamethrower."

'Sacrifice to let her go'

The Lairds owned the boat for about 18 months and travelled on it extensively before selling it to Tatton last summer.

By then, they had moved to Texas and shipping the boat was just too expensive to entertain, explained Laird.

He said it was a "sacrifice to let her go," but he didn't want anything bad to happen to it in storage — "which is ironic now."

Roger Cosman/CBC
Roger Cosman/CBC

Laird said he feels especially bad for the man who sold him the boat. He said the man had taken 10 years to painstakingly rebuild and refurbish the boat.

The man put it back in the water in 1999 and spent the next 20 years travelling all around Canada with his family.

Laird said his own family created incredible memories in the relatively short time they owned the boat, travelling mostly along the St. John River and south along the Atlantic coast into the United States.

Roger Cosman/CBC
Roger Cosman/CBC

"It was an adventure of a lifetime for us. We wanted to find something that got us outside all together, a skill that we could all learn together. … We all did that together. We all learned together. So it was great memories as a family and just a bit of adventure, you know?

"I wish we could have taken it with us, you know. I wish it was sitting right down here. I think we all wished that now."