News & Views

ABANDONED BOAT: Cha Cha Up For Grabs in Newport?

Cha Cha in Newport

Cha Cha at anchor in Newport. She seems very secure (note deployment of twin chain anchor rodes) (Photo from Newport-Now.com)

THE UNFORTUNATE SAGA of CHA CHA, the 52-foot steel cutter I first encountered in Bermuda back in the fall of 2009, continues. According to an article published earlier this month, the city of Newport, Rhode Island, is now seeking to seize the boat, which reportedly has been lying at anchor in Newport untended since sometime last year. If the city succeeds in this and decides to sell Cha Cha at auction, it could be a good score for someone. The boat definitely needs a lot of work, but at the right price she should be well worth the trouble.

I blogged about Cha Cha again just last month, when I posted some videos by Drake Roberts, in which he documented his unsuccessful attempt to tow the boat to Bermuda in '09, after she was disabled trying to sail there from Newport. I first met Rich Littauer, her owner, in Bermuda shortly after this.

According to the article cited above, Cha Cha arrived in Newport last September, but in fact I saw Rich aboard the boat, anchored in Newport, early the month before while I was test-sailing the Swan 66 Lionessa for the comic. Cha Cha was definitely in better shape than she was last time I saw her, though she was still rough around the edges. For example, the collision damage from her encounter with Drake's boat Paragon was still clearly visible.

Damage to Cha Cha

Damage to Cha Cha's topside in 2009

Cha Cha in Newport

Cha Cha anchored in Newport in August 2011

Rich himself seemed fine. He gave me a big shout and a wave as we motored by on Lionessa.

I also heard from Rich in July 2010, when he posted a comment to a blog I wrote about being stuck in Bermuda due to weather. The comment, you'll note, is quite up-beat, which is in Rich's nature. He is a devout Christian and has an abiding belief that his Saviour can be counted on to provide for him.

As to the boat itself, Rich gave me a tour in '09, and I was impressed by her. He told me then he believed the boat was built in South Africa, but he did not know who designed her. After my post about Drake, I did receive an e-mail from a woman who knows the boat's history, and according to her Cha Cha was designed by Ernst Van der Laan and came to Florida from South Africa back in early 2000. She did not provide further details.

Though the fate of the boat is now uncertain, there is reportedly a court hearing scheduled for June 4, in which the city of Newport will press its argument that it should be allowed to take possession. Apparently, it has a claim against the boat for about $120,000 in outstanding fines.

You can follow a lively debate on whether the city is acting fairly here by visiting this thread on the Cruising Sailors Bulletin Board. At least one participant seems to have some personal knowledge of Cha Cha and believes Rich has not in fact abandoned her.

Even if he hasn't, at this point it may be impossible for him to reclaim her, unless the city forgives the accumulated fines. As I noted in my '09 post, Rich's problem has always been that Cha Cha is much more boat than he can afford. He never purchased her himself, but received her as payment in kind from her previous owners after he worked as her skipper for over a year without getting paid.

Now, perhaps, it is time for Cha Cha to become someone else's windfall. I can only hope her next owner will give her the refit she deserves.

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