September 8, 2013

A Maine fisherman's life lived large ends in a sea of questions

A friend who was with him on his last night talks about Billy McIntire's ill-fated swim, and the 'toughest decision of my life.'

By Matt Byrne mbyrne@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

OGUNQUIT – In the life and times of Billy McIntire, it was hardly an unusual sight.

click image to enlarge

Bouquets of flowers rest on the bow of the lobster boat Clover in memory of Billy McIntire in Perkins Cove recently. McIntire and his friend Tim Levesque, along with three women, took the boat out late on the night of Aug. 22. “None of this should have happened,” said Levesque, adding, “I’m the one who had to say ‘bye’ to him and let him go.

Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

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Fisherman Billy McIntire, shown at work in 2008, is presumed drowned after diving off his lobster boat late in the evening of Aug. 22, investigators say. His body has yet to be recovered.

Contributed photo

Additional Photos Below

Before midnight under a nearly full moon, McIntire -- a consummate hard worker with a jovial reputation and a penchant for having a good time -- was heading for his boat, three women and a friend in tow.

In the days since his death that night, the few witnesses who know firsthand how McIntire was lost have largely remained silent or have all but left town, only fueling rumors and speculation about his final moments.

"None of this should have happened," said Tim Levesque, who set off with McIntire that night, along with the three women, whom they had met at a bar. After a night of drinks and dancing, they headed to the first boat McIntire had ever owned, the Clover.

The night ended with McIntire lost at sea. He remains missing and presumably drowned.

McIntire, 51, partied harder, fished longer and landed more monsters, often in second-rate boats, than almost anyone else he knew. And he knew everyone worth knowing in this seaside town, and was a boisterous, gleeful presence in the lives of nearly all of them.

After a lifetime spent at sea, McIntire was comfortable operating in the harshest of conditions, often fishing more than 100 miles from shore for as long as a week in search of a prize-winning tuna. But on the night he disappeared, the waves were calm, the skies were clear.

Yet, after a few minutes treading water offshore near Perkins Cove's bell buoy, Levesque would find McIntire floating face down in the gentle waves, his quiet death a jarring end to a life lived at full volume.

FRIENDS WHEREVER HE WENT

On land, there was hardly a business, restaurant, barroom or fishing operation where McIntire was not a welcome regular. Called the unofficial town mayor, he was a grinning, fun-loving man with a penchant for making fast friends wherever he went.

At sea, McIntire was exposed to constant risk. Commercial fishing, especially in New England, consistently ranks among the most dangerous occupations in the country, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On average, 46 people died nationwide as a result of fishing-related accidents each year between 2000 and 2010 -- a total of 545 in that decade. A third of the fatalities were crew who fell overboard.

"I don't think it's fair to judge him or what he did by the standards of how the rest of us have to live our lives," said an acquaintance, Jay, who declined to give his last name for fear of offending the grieving family. "The fishermen work extremely hard, and they play hard, too."

The inquiry by authorities into the circumstances of McIntire's death remains open and active. The Maine Marine Patrol, which is looking into the case, has declined to release details of its investigation, including a key interview with the only person who likely witnessed McIntire's death, a woman so far identified only as Stephanie. McIntire's body has yet to be recovered, and the rest of the McIntire family, overwhelmed by grief, declined to be interviewed.

Yet in interviews with more than a dozen close friends, associates and community members, a fuller picture has emerged of McIntire, who played as hard as he worked, living from summer to summer, taking jobs where he could find them, all the while surrounding himself with the friends and family whom he cherished.

'COVE RATS' SHARE MEMORIES

Each summer, from the cold Atlantic Ocean, McIntire would extract a living by lobstering with his father, Sonny, or harpooning and hand-reeling bluefin tuna.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Perkins Cove lobsterman Rick Knight, captain of the Michelle D, waits to unload his catch at the wharf late last month. Billy McIntire “was a hell of a nice guy,” Knight said of Perkins Cove’s unofficial “mayor,” who was lost at sea and presumed drowned on Aug. 22. McIntire was “always very popular and nice to be around,” Knight said.

Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

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Michelle Melanson and Tracy Charpentier, close friends of lost fisherman Billy McIntire, sit on the porch of their Ogunquit home late last month. According to Melanson, the empty chair in the foreground is where McIntire used to sit during his frequent visits.

Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

 


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