An Ode to the Guy Who Stole the Clipper

Sammy, we hardly knew you.

You were our folk hero, a wild man, a go-for-it dreamer. The town buzzed with news of your heist. Some wanted to erect a statue of you. You stole an $8 million ferry boat for a joy ride!

In the morning darkness of December 1, you crawled through a gap in the waterfront fence around the Victoria Clipper, sneaked aboard a 480-ton international passenger ship, found the keys in the ignition, and set sail—for West Seattle. Far out!

And then the thing died on you. The Clipper people looked out their window and saw their big Canadian ferry adrift on Elliott Bay. What the? The captain wasn’t even at work yet. The first cruise to merry Victoria was hours away. Did the boat break loose or something?

They called a tug. When it arrived to rescue the drifting Clipper IV, the crew saw you at the helm. They locked themselves in their pilot house and called the cops.

The Seattle Police SWAT team arrived with reinforcements: Port of Seattle Police, King County Sheriff’s Bomb Squad, a hostage negotiator, and an FBI agent assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

All that shock and awe for Samuel K. McDonough—just a nutty guy celebrating his 33rd birthday!

When the negotiator called, you told him your name was Zorro. But sometimes you went by Chaos. You the man, Sam.

And when the hostage negotiator asked what you wanted, you said you were a pirate. And like most pirates, you were lonely.

“Bring me a woman,” you said!

The cops boarded and took you into custody. Later, they perp-walked you in front of the media. On TV we saw a skinny guy in cuffs wearing a life vest and what seemed to be a drunken smile as he strolled past the cameras.

You were a jolly pirate of the low seas who’d had one too many bottles of rum, we figured. High five, Sam, you made our day.

The next day, not so much. Guess you didn’t exactly untie the boat, we learned. You cast off a few mooring lines, then powered away, snapping other lines—including the electrical hookup and tearing a cleat off the dock. That’ll cost some money.

But, hey, it was your first ferry command. And you followed pirate etiquette—raiding the duty-free cupboard and the liquor supply. You also snatched a couple bottles of perfume, presumably for that lady friend. That was nice.

Then the cops released more details. You seemed a little mixed-up, Sam. You thought someone had remotely turned off the engines, you said in a recorded statement. You rambled about “trying to hold myself and the boat hostage.” You said you wanted to go to West Seattle—but maybe Victoria. It sounded like you were running from something.

At least you were sort of poetic. Your plan was, you said, to “flee from the scene of the crime in the nick of time.”

Then, in the following days, we heard from the prosecutor. And since then, some of us have read through other court papers. There are a lot of them, Sam, dating back more than a decade.

Hmmm. They include three felony convictions for unzipping and exposing. Far out, indeed.

In 2005, you were caught masturbating while looking into apartment windows. On the jail wall, you wrote “Love with no sex ain’t love.” In 2008, you exposed your penis to a woman on the street and said “I want to jump your bones.” Last year, you lay on the ground outside a coffee stand and masturbated while looking at the baristas inside. You told a cop that exposing yourself is “another way to communicate with a girl.”

We said you the man, Sam. That doesn’t mean drop your pants and prove it.

For that last act you got 18 months. Your attorney said you suffer from “severe” mental-health problems aggravated by chronic alcohol and drug abuse, including meth. After you got out in May, you repeatedly violated your community release by cutting off your GPS tracking device. You’re a registered sex offender. Now you face a long stretch for first-degree burglary, theft, and malicious mischief, all felonies.

Well hell, Sam. You gave us a good laugh.

Maybe a good cry would have been more appropriate. As much as we thought we knew you—as that smiling, rebellious pirate—we’re more likely to remember this indelible moment, described by the officer who booked you for the coffee-stand exposure:

“After about 15 minutes in the cell, he started looking out of the jail cell window towards where the female holding cell is. He took his penis out of the zipper of his pants and began to masturbate.”

In the jail? On video? Cops watching? A burning image, Sam. You can pretty much forget about that statue in your likeness.

Journalist and author Rick Anderson writes about crime, money, and politics, which tend to be the same thing.

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