The body of a man believed to be “Captain Fredy” was found aboard his boat by the harbormaster near the mouth of Warwick Cove on Saturday. It is thought he had been dead for at least a week.
Fredy Silva was a seafaring nomad who loved his boat and the bay. Over the years he frequently visited Warwick shores, and in particular Conimicut north of the lighthouse, where area residents let him keep his boat on a mooring for weeks at a time. He showed up early this summer after spending last winter on his boat, a 26-foot Columbia he named Capella Star, at a marina in the Taunton River, where in exchange for a slip he served as security.
Silva would stay for a week or two, and then leave on a day when the winds were favorable. Potters Cove on Prudence Island or Fog Land Point off Little Compton were two of his favorite destinations, where he would spend days fishing, listening to his radio or watching his handheld TV and paddling ashore in his tiny skiff to get water and supplies. Then, when the winds were favorable and he was ready, he’d reappear.
This summer, Silva spent more time off Conimicut than in prior years. A schedule developed where he would paddle ashore early in the morning and pedal his bike to the convenience store or meet up with his brother or a friend who would drive him to Cumberland, where he worked on a truck, he told the Beacon.
As Captain Fredy has been the subject of several columns over the years, his sister in-law, Becky Silva, contacted the paper more than a week ago after not being able to reach him on his cell phone. The paper contacted the Coast Guard in Newport, but there were no reports and they agreed to be on the lookout for a yellow Columbia.
Yesterday, Major Christine Kelley reported that a body had been found on a boat at 1 p.m. Saturday. The boat was moored at the end of Randall Avenue. She said that the medical examiner took custody of the boat and that a name was obtained, but neither a positive identification nor cause of death had been made.
“We were able to trace the name by the boat, but an identity hasn’t been confirmed,” she said.
Becky Silva said police contacted the family Saturday, and from the description of the boat and the body found the family believes it is Captain Fredy.
Captain Fredy took to sailing late in life.
According to the account he wrote in an unpublished book about a trip from Rhode Island to Florida in a 20-foot sailboat, Silva was drafted at the age of 20 during the Vietnam War. After leaving the Army, he started his own business, a combination used car lot and service station that he turned into a success working long hours. He married, owned a house and was the father of two sons.
After 15 years, he writes, “the dream started to fall apart.” He ended up in the psychiatric ward at the Veterans Hospital.
“Now instead of a pocket full of money, I had a pocket full of bills,” he writes.
For five years, Silva lived out of his car, finding refuge in church parking lots, finding meals in homeless shelters, making friends and discovering “it was easier to live with the poor.”
While in Westerly, he became friends with a man who owned two boats who suggested he stay on one rather than at the shelter. Silva, who said he always loved the sea, seized the opportunity, but at the end of the summer, when the boat had to be hauled, he was forced to leave. He looked around the boatyard and found a 20-foot sailboat for sale. The boat was a mess, and Silva didn’t have the $900 asking price. When the price dropped to $500 Silva was able to scrape the money together. He spent the winter of 1995 aboard tied to a dock with Ziggy, a cat that his sister had given him. It was a lesson in survival, with the two of them keeping warm in a sleeping bag.
That winter convinced Silva that he needed to be in Key Largo, Florida. His book describes how he outfitted the boat, which he named Cygnus. He made a tiller and boom from oak planks and outfitting it with tarps for sails. He raised the money for the tarps by collecting and turning in aluminum cans for five cents apiece in Connecticut. When fellow boaters at the Connecticut marina, where he had been allowed to tie up, learned of his can drive, they contributed and he had the $15 he needed in no time.
Silva’s book, “The Blessed Voyage,” is a tale of near disasters, odd jobs he picks up to raise the money he needs to outfit his boat and the people he meets along the way who help him. Throughout, he revels at the kindness and good nature of people and Jesus, in whom he had faith.
Silva’s story was published in Cruising World, and when he showed up off the shores of Conimicut for the first time in 2001, it was reported in the Beacon. At that time he had a larger 32-foot Irwin, which he had found in Rhode Island after leaving Cygnus in Florida. He spent the summer coming and going when the spirit moved him and working odd jobs, including house painting and yard work to make a few bucks. He then disappeared from these parts for several years, reappearing this year in what he affectionately called his “one-dollar yacht.”
Silva bought the Columbia for a dollar from a boatyard where its former owner walked away from storage and dockage fees. Adept in the use of fiberglass, Silva converted the blunt bow of the Columbia into a sleek profile and added a fiberglass stern platform that he retrieved from a boatyard dumpster to give the boat easy access. An American flag always flew from the rigging no matter what boat he owned. And while just about everything on the boat was salvaged, the flag wasn’t. It always looked to be new.
He painted his one-dollar yacht yellow. Rustoleum was his preferred brand of paint, claiming it was better than far more costly marine paints. His boat, which he referred to as his “home,” was neat and shipshape. Solar panels fed juice into a 12-volt battery and he had rigged LED lawn lights to provide illumination. His stores included canned vegetables, spaghetti and dried foods.
In an interview this May, he said it was painting that brought him back to Conimicut this year. He said he would be painting his son’s house in Cumberland.
Captain Fredy was last seen moored off Conimicut in late July. He paddled ashore on a calm bay, pulling his skiff up on the rocky beach at the end of Blake Street, where he met a friend who would drive him to Cumberland. He was now working on his son’s truck.
He pulled a bucket from the small boat jammed with plastic bottles and debris he’d collected from wherever he dropped a hook and went ashore. He was appalled by how the bay was treated as a dumping ground and made a point of how people abuse Rhode Island’s greatest natural resource.
On that hot July morning, he looked around and declared, “You know, this is the best planet we’ve got.”
Becky Silva has few doubts that it was Captain Fredy who was found Saturday. But until a confirmation is made, police aren’t saying anything.