By JOHN T. WARD
Did one or more vandals walk several hundred yards out onto the frozen Navesink River in the dead of night – in bitter cold – to torch an icebound boat early Wednesday? Or did the fire start without human assistance?
In the aftermath the predawn blaze that destroyed a vessel dubbed the Fiddler off Red Bank, some redbankgreen readers don’t find the arson scenario such a stretch – because there was another fire on the vessel in the past two weeks, they claim.
redbankgreen reader David McCarthy called the fire “the second attempt” since ice ringed the boat in late January. In a comment on a story about the blaze, he wrote that he was at the Oyster Point Hotel two weeks ago when he saw a fire on the vessel.
“Walked out the next day and there was some charring in the boat,” he wrote. “Looks like they finally finished the job.”
There was also this comment, from Nick Lembesis:
I was watching the ice boats at the marina a week or two ago. I started talking to a guy who was just walking on the ice. He said that vandals had started a fire on the boat the night before. He was with the owner of the boat, who was very upset.
A Coast Guard vessel registration identifies the Fiddler’s owner as Sam Haigh of Harrison Avenue in Red Bank. Haigh, however, did not respond to a request for comment.
Red Bank police Chief Darren McConnell said he was unaware of any reports or complaints about the boat prior to Wednesday’s fire.
A spokesman for the State Police Marine Unit, which is investigating the fire, did not have any information about the probe Wednesday afternoon.
The boat registration classifies it as a 30-foot commercial fishing vessel – locals call it the lobster boat – built by Duffy and Duffy in 1980.
A member of the Monmouth Boat Club who asked not to be identified said Haigh, who is also a member, anchors the boat in the club’s mooring field for the sailing season, but for the past several winters has moved it upriver, off Maple Cove, so it doesn’t interfere with iceboat sailing.
Why the boat stays in the river, where it would be likely to be damaged or destroyed by ice, was one of the mysteries that surrounded it.
The National Weather Service reported the temperature in Red Bank around the time of the fire at 12 degrees Fahrenheit, and the river was brightly lit by the moon. The river ice was said to be seven to eight inches thick in the area of the boat.