Richard Pratt, 80, had sailed to Maine from Massachusetts for the past 40 years. Photo courtesy of Pratt family via WCSH-TV

CAPE ELIZABETH — The family of Richard Pratt still hopes to find the 80-year-old missing sailor from Massachusetts whose boat ran aground Thursday on Richmond Island.

Pratt set sail Aug. 1 from his hometown of Cohasset, Massachusetts, on Boston’s South Shore, intending to make a yearly trip up the New England coast to Maine. His 33-foot sailboat, the Tarrier, was found Thursday evening on Richmond Island off the coast of Cape Elizabeth. The boat’s sails were up, its dinghy was still attached and it appeared to be undamaged. The cabin door was open, but Pratt was nowhere to be found.

The Coast Guard, aided by the Maine Marine Patrol and other agencies, searched through the night, covering more than 300 nautical square miles in 17 hours before ending the search Friday afternoon. The marine patrol continued to search through the weekend, then scaled back its efforts Monday afternoon to periodic flyovers.

“I’m very confident that the Coast Guard and the Maine Marine Patrol have done everything they could,” Marjorie Earl, Pratt’s sister, said Monday. “We still have hope, but it would be some sort of miracle if they find him alive now.”

Pratt, a bachelor and retired welder, built his own boats.

“He didn’t have a wife – he just had a boat,” said Earl, 74, one of eight siblings. “It took him awhile to build that one. That’s why he named it the Tarrier.”

EXPERIENCED SAILOR, WELDER

Family members described Pratt as an experienced sailor who developed a love for the ocean as a boy growing up on Cohasset Harbor. Later, he came to know Maine waters well.

“He made this trip every year for the last 40 years,” said Earl, who lives next door to her brother. “He’d take a whole month. His destination was usually the Penobscot River.”

Family members said Pratt stayed in relatively good health for his age, watched what he ate and walked or biked several miles a day. “He was in better shape than many 60-year-olds,” Earl said. So he continued his solo sailing trips.

Undated photo of Richard Pratt’s sailboat “Tarrier.” Photo courtesy of Craig Garland via WCSH

“It seems kind of crazy, going sailing on your own in open water at 80 years old, but it’s what he loved to do,” said his great-nephew Brian Pratt, 30, of East Bridgewater, Massachusetts.

Earl said her brother started his career welding radar equipment and later worked on firetrucks. Quiet but friendly and good with his hands, he was often asked to design prototypes for various equipment, she said. He learned to sail by the stars, and even taught classes in celestial navigation, before making the transition to GPS.

“He’s a smart guy,” Earl said. “He could read about something once and learn how to do it.”

Search officials told Earl that the navigation logbook found on Pratt’s boat is impeccable – though she says her brother’s penmanship is not. He spent Tuesday night moored off Misery Island, near Salem, Massachusetts. He spent the second night moored near Portsmouth, New Hampshire. What happened after that remains unclear.

LOGBOOK GUIDES SEARCH

When Pratt’s sailboat was found Thursday evening on Richmond Island, the Coast Guard and other agencies searched the area around Kettle Cove through the night and into the next day, including by aircraft. Officials involved in the search said the fact that the boat’s sails were set made it difficult for them to figure out exactly when and where it was last under Pratt’s control.

Katie Gniadek told WCSH-TV that she was paddle-boarding near Richmond Island on Thursday afternoon when she saw Pratt’s boat drifting on a strong easterly current that was carrying it toward the island.

“I could see that the sails were up, but nobody was out there,” Gniadek said.

After reviewing Pratt’s logbook, officials shifted their search south to an area between Wood Island off Biddeford and Boone Island off Ogunquit. The logbook indicated that Pratt might have disappeared after leaving the Isles of Shoals, near the border with New Hampshire, heading toward Wood Island.

Earl came to Maine on Friday to meet with search officials and gather her brother’s belongings. When they took her out to her brother’s boat, moored off Cape Elizabeth, the swells were high and the fog was thick.

“He knew how to swim, but he didn’t wear a life preserver,” Earl said. “Even if he were able to survive with the water being so cold, how could you see someone out in those swells and that fog?”

Still, Pratt’s family members hope his self-reliance and stubbornness will bring them a miracle. If not, they know one thing for sure.

“He was doing something he loved,” Brian Pratt said.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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