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Sheep-wrecked! Sizable sailboat has been sinking into Sheepshead Bay for weeks

The wreck of American Venture in Sheepshead Bay on Friday, Nov. 5
Photo by Ben Brachfeld

Sheeper-me-timbers!

A giant sailboat has been slowly sinking into Sheepshead Bay for weeks, seeping oil into the southern Brooklyn inlet and becoming a mini-tourist attraction for scallywags trudging alongside the bay.

The sailboat, christened as “American Venture,” has fully capsized on her starboard side, with the bow fully underwater and only the stern and mast jutting out of the bay’s murky depths, immediately adjacent to the Shore Boulevard Mall in Manhattan Beach and the Ocean Avenue footbridge connecting Manhattan Beach and Sheepshead Bay.

The water in the spot where the vessel lay is about eight feet deep, according to a nautical chart from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, meaning it’s unlikely the boat could fully sink beneath the bay’s surface due to the height of its mast.

Locals say it’s been there for about two weeks or so, since the sailboat became unmoored from its spot in the middle of the bay during a storm last month and likely sinking after colliding with the footbridge. Pictures were posted in a local Facebook group of the boat on the verge of capsizing as early as Oct. 23. By the 30th, it had sunk.

Officials have roped off the shipwreck to prevent it from drifting away, but so far have not begun work to remove it from the bay. As she sits undisturbed, what appears to be an oil slick has proliferated in the water around the vessel, presumably having leaked from her engine.

An apparent oil slick in the water adjacent to the vessel.Photo by Ben Brachfeld

The wreck has become something of a curiosity for passersby, owing to its location right next to a waterfront promenade and a pedestrian bridge, who are shocked by her presence and often stop to take pictures.

Community Board 15 Chairperson Theresa Scavo, however, believes the city should remove it with haste. “I think it’s dangerous,” Scavo said. “And it’s a huge problem to take away.”

The Parks Department says that abandoned shipwrecks can be dangerous both for other boaters and for delicate aquatic ecosystems. In addition to the damage an adrift boat can do to other boats or to shoreline areas, shipwrecks can also leak gasoline, oil, or other pollutants into waterways and wreak havoc on delicate ecosystems.

However, the city has determined that in the case of American Venture, the wreck is not a pressing environmental hazard. A spokesperson for the Parks Department said that the Coast Guard has inspected and removed hazardous fluids such as oil from the wreck, and that other than the fluids, there isn’t much to worry about.

However, officials have not been able to get in contact with the boat’s owner, and may even end up issuing a fine.

“While unsightly, we do not believe this to be an immediate environmental hazard,” said Parks Department Spokesperson Dan Kastanis. “The Coast Guard has inspected and removed the fluids on this vessel, and it is not in the boating channel. We are working to contact the owner of this vessel to coordinate its removal, or pursue a fine.”

There is no dedicated funding source specifically for removing shipwrecks, and they are only performed on an “as-needed basis,” meaning it could potentially be there for months or even years. There is also no one agency specifically designated to handle them: the Parks Department has jurisdiction over the city’s marinas and the Army Corps of Engineers has jurisdiction over waterways, while the Coast Guard is tasked with remediating environmental hazards from wrecks and the Police Department and Fire Department handle security issues.

When wrecks are moved, they have their fuel tanks removed and are then transported to a disposal site where they are crushed and used as landfill.

A review of Google Maps imagery shows that the boat was moored off Manhattan Beach, near Shore Boulevard and Girard Street, at least since 2017. Nonetheless, the “Hull Identification Number” used to identify a boat’s registered owner was not visible — Boatsafe.com notes that HINs are typically affixed to the starboard side, which in the case of American Venture is beneath the surface of Sheepshead Bay.

Though, records from the 3rd Annual United Regatta hosted by the Russail Yacht Club, a boating organization primarily composed of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, show that the 54 foot American Venture, built in 1982, is owned by Dmitry Kupershmidt, a former member of the Miramar Yacht Club.

Earlier this year, Kupershmidt sued the Miramar Yacht Club, claiming that his membership had been terminated in retaliation after he complained that the club hired an unlicensed electrical contractor to do repair work which never had permits filed for with the city. The club countered that his expulsion was within the bounds of the club constitution, and that he was actually expelled for repeated “unbecoming conduct,” including but not limited to running on club grounds an unlicensed “boat tender operation,” essentially charging money to guests to ferry them from the marina to their boats moored in the bay.

Kupershmidt also claims that he was discriminated against by the club for his status as a convicted felon, stemming from incidents in Wild Acres Lakes, Pennsylvania where he allegedly attempted to rig an election for the homeowners’ association board of directors, and spent HOA money to build an archery range without first consulting the board. The club counters that Kupershmidt remained a member in good standing for several years after his conviction and incarceration, and that discrimination played no part in his expulsion.

Litigation in the case is ongoing.

Kupershmidt could not be reached for comment; his attorney Erik Ikhilov was unavailable for comment.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the lawsuit between Dmitry Kupershmidt and Miramar Yacht Club had been resolved in Kupershmidt’s favor. Litigation is ongoing. We regret the error.

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