How the good ship Beverly landed in the Potomac's dire straits
On the sandy shores of Roosevelt Island, surrounded by piles of driftwood, rests an aging motorboat, the Beverly. She is a 40-foot, single-engine Owens powerboat, with a wooden hull, sky-blue trim, and a cozy cabin. Her front windshields are cracked, and she needs a paint job. She juts out into the Potomac at an ungainly angle, her bow facing the island, wobbling in the gentle tide like a novice on ice skates.
The boat, which is empty and abandoned, occupies some of the waterfront's most conspicuous real estate. Each day, her sun-bathing figure draws curious glances from diners at Sequoia, bikers on Rock Creek Parkway, and residents at the Watergate.
There are no other boats docked on Roosevelt Island. For that matter, there is no dock. A rope tied to a tree keeps the boat from meandering downstream.
On a Sunday afternoon in April, boat after boat passing on the Potomac pulls near the shipwreck to get a better view. The occupants stare, snicker, and shrug. Even at close range, the boat remains an enigma.
As I stand ashore gazing at the vessel, a passing boater yells to me, "Nice driving!"
As it turns out, the credit for the driving belongs to Jeff Mendoza, the 30-year-old captain of the Beverly. Before the boat ended up in its current berth, he kept her tied up at the Gangplank Marina on the Southwest waterfront. When she last motored out of the marina is unclear; Mendoza did not respond to a letter requesting comment for this story.
But according to the Harbor Patrol Unit of the Metropolitan Police Department, the Beverly's last voyage ended abruptly on Saturday, March 30, when at about 8:30 p.m., Mendoza crashed the motorboat into the dock at Georgetown Harbor. Police say that Mendoza put the boat in reverse, hit the pier, and struck a number of other craft.
When the harbor police arrived on the scene, they promptly arrested Mendoza and his shipmate, Dennis Oweil, for BWI, boating while intoxicated. After hauling off the twosome, the police attempted to haul away the Beverly, hitching her to a towboat for the short trek home. But the caravan didn't get far before the Beverly began gulping water. Soon, she was in danger of drowning.
The towboat operator made a snap decision. Rather than deep-six the Beverly in the middle of the channel, he dragged her toward Roosevelt Island and grounded her.
With each day, the harbor police show less and less tolerance for the spectacle of the urban shipwreck. Sgt. James Walsh declines to comment on the criminal investigation of the accident but will say that Mendoza has been slow to deal with the aftermath. "He's been dragging his feet," Walsh says. "We discussed the matter with [Mendoza]. It would behoove him to get it moved."
Despite their impatience, the local boating authorities can't simply scoop up the Beverly and plop her elsewhere, because they don't own the necessary equipment. Therefore, they wait for Mendoza to declare all hands on ship. For each day that passes, the harbor patrol fines the lollygagging captain $50. Eventually, if the boat stays long enough, police say they'll bring in an outside salvage contractor at Mendoza's expense.
In the meantime, pirates of a sort have already boarded the abandoned vessel. One raider, armed with a can of blue spray paint and a working knowledge of Gilligan's Island, scrawled a new name on the boat's side panel, christening the shipwrecked Beverly with a more appropriate moniker: the S.S. Minnow. CP