Vashon man dies after apparent drowning accident

Ted Bird had a tattoo that wrapped around his entire torso and that he got as a young man in one sitting, according to his friend Dan Brown. - Courtesy Photo
Ted Bird had a tattoo that wrapped around his entire torso and that he got as a young man in one sitting, according to his friend Dan Brown.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

An Island man who lived on his 30-foot sailboat at Quartermaster Marina was found dead Saturday morning, apparently the victim of a drowning accident.

He was last seen Friday evening around 10. His body was found adjacent to the floating dock — his hand attached to the bowline of a small dinghy — Saturday morning by his friend and fellow sailing partner John Sweetman.

Sweetman and other friends who gathered at the marina identified the man as Andrew “Ted” Bird, 65, a British-born man who loved boats, could fix anything and lived life on his own terms.

“He was a genius with motors,” Sweetman said.

They also expressed surprise at his death. “Ted’s not a guy who falls into the water,” Sweetman said.

“He knew how to swim like a fish,” his wife Diane Sweetman said.

Dan Brown, who owns a home perched above the marina, also knew Bird well and described him as a man who lived fully and fearlessly. He’d dive in his underwear — not a wetsuit — to fix the motor on his boat, Brown said, and had a tattoo that began on his chest, wrapped around his torso and extended down his leg. He told Brown he got the tattoo in one sitting.

Bird was a member of the British Special Forces, similar to the U.S. Navy Seals, Brown said, and he once told Brown he was the last man in the British military to get flogged — a punishment he experienced after he punched out an officer.

“Knowing him was like knowing a sailor from 100 years ago,” Brown said.

Bird and Sweetman did sailing races together, sometimes in weather that would deter most sailors. “He loved a rough sail,” Sweetman said.

He lived on Vashon about five years, the entire time — except for his first week or two — on his boat, moored to a raft just off the pier. Routinely, he would use a dinghy to get back and forth from his sailboat, friends said, sometimes, in the winter, having to break ice to do so. He also had a motor boat tied to the raft where he moored his sailboat.

Standing at the pier at the marina, Bird’s friends speculated that he may have had a medical problem that caused him to fall into the water. “He’d been around boats all his life,” Diane Sweetman said.

The sheriff’s office is investigating Bird’s death. In a press release issued Sunday morning, the office said there was no evidence of foul play.

A memorial service will be held for Bird at the Quartermaster Inn at 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 15.

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