When Darrell Bryan arrived at the Victoria Clipper offices at 5 a.m. Sunday, he was worried about the wind and choppy waves on Elliott Bay and how they might affect the passenger ferry’s usual departure to British Columbia.
One look out the window, and dicey weather became the least of his problems.
The high-speed Clipper IV was adrift about 100 feet from the dock at Pier 69, its powerful engines running. The ropes that had secured the 132-foot ferry to the dock had not been untied, and the starboard cleats had been torn from the deck.
In the wheelhouse was Samuel K. McDonough, 33, a registered sex offender from Preston, King County, who apparently climbed a security fence and is suspected of illegally boarding the ferry and taking it out into Elliott Bay.
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McDonough — who was arrested hours later by a SWAT team that boarded the boat — reportedly told police he “only wanted to go to West Seattle,” according to Seattle police spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb. He was not armed.
Police confirmed McDonough was the suspect and said the investigation will be handled by the Port of Seattle Police Department.
Bryan, the company’s chief executive officer, said none of his captains had any idea what was happening when he asked why the boat was adrift.
Bryan said the Clipper was not scheduled to be refueled. Indeed, the Clipper IV was supposed to be out of service for a day of routine repair. Bryan began getting calls from other companies, including Holland America.
Bryan said they asked, “I see your boat sitting out in the bay. Anything we can do?”
“I knew something was wrong,’’ Bryan said, but he struggled with the idea that the boat had actually been stolen. At 7:20 a.m., with the boat now nearly 300 yards offshore, Bryan called the Coast Guard.
According to authorities, the thief gained access to the boat by scaling a low part of the fence near the Victoria Clipper sales kiosk on Alaskan Way. Then he went to the wheelhouse, where he apparently knew enough to go through a series of tasks and start the boat’s engines.
According to the company’s website, the Clipper IV, a catamaran with a water-jet propulsion system, can travel up to 30 knots.
Bryan said a
key is also needed to start it. He didn’t say if one had been left in the boat. Damage to the Clipper is believed to be minimal, said vessel superintendent John Jacoby.
Over the next several hours, the Coast Guard, a Seattle police hostage-negotiation team and the U.S. Customs Service would be involved before the man was arrested.
Bryan, who serves on an international committee of tour-boat owners, said he is now the only member to have had a boat stolen — a distinction that astounds him.
Through a GPS system, Bryan later was able to track the boat’s brief journey. It first drifted south, then north, coming close to running onto the rocks at Elliott Bay Marina.
“That would have been a real bummer,’’ Bryan said.
Then the 132-foot, high-speed catamaran moved farther into the bay and traveled in circles.
“He did not have control of the steering,’’ Jacoby said. “There is a joy stick and he thought it was like an Xbox.’’
While the boat thief drove in circles, law enforcement was closing in. The Coast Guard hooked a tug boat to the boat. Seattle police approached the boat, and a hostage negotiator tossed McDonough a cellphone to begin a conversation.
A SWAT team was sent in after negotiations faltered. McDonough was arrested without incident.
McDonough had a bag of personal belongings with him, Jacoby said. The boat had 1,300 gallons of fuel. Had McDonough known how to operate it, he could have sailed as far as Victoria, about 65 nautical miles.
McDonough was booked into the King County Jail on Sunday afternoon for investigation of burglary, reckless endangerment, malicious mischief and an outstanding warrant for failure to register as a sex offender.
In February 2012, McDonough was convicted of felony indecent exposure in Issaquah after he tried to break into a drive-through coffee stand, then masturbated in front of two female baristas inside.
McDonough is a Level 3 registered sex offender, according to the King County Sex Offender’s Registration website.
He has twice been convicted of misdemeanor indecent exposure and has one other felony indecent-exposure conviction. He has felony convictions for a drug offense and burglary.
He has five convictions for driving with a suspended license and driving under the influence, according to court records.
After last year’s incident in Issaquah, a King County prosecutor described McDonough in charging papers as “a danger to the community.”
In the meantime, Bryan said he will begin assessing his company’s security.
“In my 28 years in business, this is the first time anything like this has happened. You just don’t hear of anything like this,’’ he said.
News researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report. Nancy Bartley: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8522