If you’ve never heard of Frank Dinardi, no one will hold that against you—that is, unless you live in south-central Connecticut. The 37-year-old landscaper rose to relative fame recently after his drone footage of a sunken sailboat made the rounds on social media. In the video, a 53-foot Little Harbor yacht sat impossibly still, surrounded by dark water and an ethereal layer of ice. A piano played in the background, the chords rising and falling with each swooping view of the boat. “It was almost a horrifying image,” says Dinardi. “It was so strange, yet so beautiful.”
The boat, Mazu, had been left on a mooring in Hamburg Cove, a quiet slice of water in the town of Lyme, a neighborhood with stone walls and smoke puffing elegantly from historic homes. In the summer, the secluded cove bursts to life: Boats anchor and tie up to each other and music echoes. This fall, when the music stopped and the predictable march of boats onto land for winterization had passed, the Mazu remained. It sank in January.
Locals gossiped about who would have left such a beautiful boat on the water over the winter, but it wasn’t until Dinardi’s video surfaced that people really started to talk. When a date was set to raise the boat and tow it to a marina, every news outlet around jumped at the opportunity to dig their hands into the mystery. “The curious case of Lyme’s sunken sailboat unfolds,” read one headline.
Sinking, and the ensuing salvage, is more common than you might think. Chelsea Garcia of the U.S. Coast Guard, who was on the scene during the salvage, estimates the New Haven, Connecticut station responded to five such events this past winter. She says people never really show much interest in these sinkings, but she posits that this one became breaking news thanks to the desirable neighborhood and the boat being a luxury model.
The day of the salvage, a couple of retired men at the local gym chattered about the news. Shoppers in the grocery checkout line exchanged intel. And news cameras posted up around the cove, trying to weasel their way onto any dock with a view of the boat.
The morning dragged on slowly, with frigid temperatures and wind whipping the Sea Tow crew, who moved around on three workboats anchored near the sailboat. Just watching the diver could induce shivering, although most divers wear a “hot suit” that circulates warm water against the body. A sorbent boom surrounded the Mazu in case of an oil spill. (Eighty gallons of fuel was believed to be on board.) -After attaching the salvage bags—which have to be low enough on the hull to raise the boat—compressors began pushing air into them. The transom rose first, then the bow.
It’s unclear exactly why the Mazu sank. Patrick Kennedy, a salvage expert, says the most common causes of sinking are busted packing in the shaft, a crack in the rudder post or leakage via a through hull. Once a boat is raised, the remaining water is pumped out and it’s towed to a marina and returned to land.
Garcia and her team visit marinas across the state in the fall to talk to marina managers about the importance of winterizing their boats. If a boat isn’t winterized, it should be checked on regularly, especially after heavy weather events. For boat owners who choose not to take preventative measures and find themselves with a sunken boat on their hands, Garcia says the first course of action is to call the Coast Guard’s National Response Center (1-800-424-8802). Observers can also call if the owner is not present. The Response Center is staffed 24/7 and sends reports to local agencies including the Department of Environmental Protection, the fire department and the local Coast Guard pollution responders. Then, the Coast Guard works with the owner to make sure proper action is taken safely.
After the boat was raised, Dinardi made -another video with footage of the salvage. That video garnered 24,000 views—more than 10 times the population of the town. He gained hundreds of YouTube subscribers and dozens of Facebook friend requests. A few days after the salvage, someone stopped him and said, “Hey, you’re the sailboat guy!”
Dinardi isn’t letting his small-town celebrity status go to his head. He feels attached to the boat now, but doesn’t know if or when he’ll see it again. For now, he keeps working at the landscaping company and carrying his camera around, ready for the next story that grips the town.