Boat's sinking leaves couple, dog homeless

Man hopes to save vessel by saving from unemployment checks

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter

Published:

 
photoA partially submerged boat will likely remain along at the bank of the Columbia River near Who's Song and Larry's until mid-June. Richard Beechler, the vessel's owner, is unemployed and can't afford to have the boat removed.

(/The Columbian)

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Richard Beechler said he was homeless for a little less than a year when he had saved up enough from his unemployment checks to buy a 25-foot Owens cabin boat to call home.

The purple wooden boat has a stove, shower, toilet and enough space for himself, girlfriend Marty Brightwell and his pit bull, Cookie, he said.

"It's hard to save, but it can be done," Beechler said.

He did not, however, have enough money to rent harbor space. While saving up money to afford the rental fees, the trio tied off at docks in the area, moving to a different area every few days.

But on May 6, when he anchored the vessel about 20 feet off of the Washington shore of the Columbia River, just east of the Interstate 5 Bridge, the boat drifted, hit some rocks and took on water. It remains partially submerged near Who Song and Larry's, 111 S.E. Columbia Way, tethered to a metal handrail.

"Now I have nothing," he said.

Because Beechler, 40, can't afford to pay for the boat's removal, the Clark County Sheriff's Office will work with the Department of Natural Resources to remove the derelict vessel, Marine Deputy Todd Baker said.

Baker said situations like Beechler's are becoming more common. Having worked as a marine deputy with the county since 1997, Baker said he's seen an increase in both transient boaters and derelict boats in the past few years. The sheriff's office does not keep track of this statistic.

Beechler was given notice May 11 that he has 30 days to remove the boat or the sheriff's office will take possession of and remove the boat.

"I'm not trying to be a menace," Beechler said.

He said that he has applied to several jobs, but has yet to find a more decent income. His current plan is to try to save the boat the same way he bought it: savings from a portion of his $144 weekly unemployment check. The couple and their dog sleep under a blue tarp near the boat to ward off looters.

"I don't beg," he said. "All I can do is pinch and save a little bit out of my unemployment … it's not easy when you don't make money."

If Beechler doesn't get the money to remove the boat himself, authorities are expected to remove the vessel on June 11.

Emily Gillespie: 360-735-4522; http://www.twitter.com/col_cops; emily.gillespie@columbian.com.