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Shortest Shipwreck: Vanna White, Matthew Hunt, eBay, the Montauk Light

Arizona man takes a shot at the Hamptons sailing life and fails miserably.


First seen on Dan's Papers - February 1, 2020

Cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas


In late September, a 21-year-old Arizona man named Matthew Hunt purchased a 27-foot sailboat on eBay. He said later that he had slept through the earlier part of the auction, but at the last minute swooped in and bought it for $700.


This ship, he thought, would change his life. Things weren’t working out in Arizona. He’d been laid off from his job at a computer chip company. Now he’d start a new life, coming to the fabulous Hamptons and living on his sailboat.


Hunt flew to La Guardia Airport carrying his possessions, then took the train to Montauk to meet up with Vanna White, for that was the name of his newly purchased ship. The seller also had told him the onboard engine was pretty balky. But then this ship, which might normally cost $15,000, was going for $700, so it was as is.


Of course, the first thing to do after he stashed all his stuff on board was take her out for a spin. This was just two days after he’d pressed BUY on his computer back in Arizona.


Matt hoisted the sails as he passed through the jetties. He was underway. He’d take her out to just offshore of the Montauk Lighthouse, 15 minutes away. The sails were billowing and she was running fine. His new life had begun.


Just after he rounded the lighthouse, however, changing winds and crashing waves rolled the ship. The engine died. He tried restarting it but it wouldn’t catch. The wind whipped in and the current began pulling the ship toward the beach.


He struggled with it, but now it was out of control. And just alongside the cliffs at a place called Shadmoor, the ocean hurled Vanna into a rocky beach, the sound of the scraping frightening Hunt as he considered the damage happening below. But all was lost. Just 45 minutes after Hunt started his new life, the Vanna White slid up onto the beach, dug in its keel and came to a halt, listing sideways to starboard.


Passersby on the beach came running. Matt climbed out of the cockpit carrying his dripping suitcase and hopped down onto the sand. From here it was all about good samaritans coming to the aid of a shipwrecked young captain. Sea Tow Montauk, an outfit that hauls in crippled ships, was called, and soon thereafter the Vanna White was refloated and towed back toward the dock at Montauk Harbor. On its way, Vanna White sank in shallow water just at the jetties, (where it had to be dragged up later). Hunt was on the scene, having been taken by car back to the harbor.


Hunt, now flat broke, spent a few nights at the home of a stranger who felt sorry for him, and in a few days got offered work by Ed McFarland, the owner of Ed’s Lobster Bar in Sag Harbor. Hunt also gave interviews to the local media, which was interested in the story. The New York Post asked if he felt his dream was shattered, and he said it was “my worst nightmare.” Hunt also was charged with two misdemeanors for what happened. One was “littering or abandoning,” the other reckless operation of a vessel. After being given a court appointed lawyer, he pled not guilty to both in East Hampton Town Justice Court on October 2.


Matt failed to show up for his court date on October 23, The East Hampton Star reported, and also didn’t appear on the next court date on December 5. His current location is unknown.


Three weeks before Christmas, the court dismissed the case. Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc noted there were $10,000 in costs the town had to bear in towing and salvaging the ship. “We’re not trying to destroy the kid, but I have to somehow figure out a way to recoup the taxpayers’ money,” Ed Michels, the chief harbormaster, told the Star. “I know he didn’t do it on purpose, but what else can I do?”


An article on 27east drew a dozen comments. The first of them read, “This sounds like something Dan would have written 30 years ago.”


Well, he didn’t but now he did.


Others commented that he had some nerve posting a GoFundMe request online, though a search I did failed to show he had done that. There was a GoFundMe request from an Englishman, but that was another Matt Hunt.


This article first appeared in Dan's Papers.

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