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
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 3)

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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

When they emerged from the bar, McIntire had another idea, Levesque recalled.

"Billy had said something about, 'Let's go for a boat ride.'"


Once the group was aboard the Clover, McIntire pointed the boat at the bell buoy several hundred yards from shore, Stephanie's arm around his waist as he steered the vessel out.

Nighttime on Perkins Cove is dark and quiet, and that evening the waves were calm.

McIntire suggested the three women climb onto the buoy so someone could snap a photo.

"I looked at him, like, 'Absolutely not,'" Levesque said. "I laughed, and they were like, 'No way.'"

No one discussed taking a swim. Levesque remembers turning around to find McIntire stripping down to his boxer shorts, and the longtime fisherman diving from the port-side gunwale.

"He jumped in, came up, flipped his hair back, and within seconds, Stephanie jumped in right behind him," Levesque said.

The two joined in the water, limbs entwined, both paddling with their hands.

Levesque, seeing that they seemed content, turned to the other two women still aboard the vessel.

"Maybe 30 seconds went by, and I heard someone yell, 'I can't swim,'" Levesque said. He called out to the couple in the water, and heard again, this time in tones of distress, a voice from the darkness:

"I can't swim."

Levesque yelled again and McIntire responded, saying he would swim to the boat with Stephanie. But the voices were fading.

Levesque leapt to the controls, swung the vessel toward the sound of the voices, and motored to where he believed they were, shouting to them over the thrum of the diesel engine.

"I saw someone coming up," Levesque said. "The momentum of the boat was still going, and I saw her. And I saw Billy, probably 15, 20 feet (away) and he was floating, his head was down."

In one smooth motion, Levesque pulled the woman aboard. She broke down, hysterical, he said, as the other women sat frozen in shock.

Levesque tied a rope to one of the cleats and dove in for McIntire.

He managed to bring McIntire to the boat's edge, but it was nearly three feet between the water's surface and the edge of the boat's railing.

"I repeatedly just tried to go down and push him up from his butt, up on the boat, and he'd just teeter off."

Levesque tried again, with his hands locked on the boat's edge and his feet pinned to the hull.

"Finally one of the girls came over and grabbed him by the arm. She just slipped off him immediately."

Levesque positioned McIntire's body across his thighs, and slowly, using all of his strength, attempted to nudge McIntire's limp body aboard.

"I remember just holding him there," he said. "I had him pinned up against the side of the boat with my body, and I was screaming, just screaming."

Clinging to the boat, Levesque realized he was wrapped in the rope that he had taken as a lifeline, and it had wrapped in the boat's propeller. With each tug, the line was tightening around him.

"At that point I knew something was happening to me, I could feel something in me and it wasn't right," said Levesque, struggling to hold back his emotions. "I looked down at Billy and I told him, 'I'm sorry, buddy, but I gotta let you go.' I had to make the toughest decision of my life."

Levesque flopped onto the deck exhausted, ears ringing, his nerves on fire from exertion. His head throbbed from impacting the hull, and a cut had opened up the bridge of his nose.

(Continued on page 5)

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Additional Photos

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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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