CHATHAM — Captain Dave Murdoch was an easily recognizable figure in the town of Chatham, between driving along in his blue Jeep with its American flag waving in the wind and walks with his dog Gordon. Now, friends and fellow mariners are mourning the death of the 78-year-old, whose remains were found near the southern tip of North Beach Monday afternoon.
Investigators do not yet know how Mr. Murdoch died, but the cause is not believed to be suspicious.
Officials received a call for an overdue boater shortly before 4 p.m., and on investigation, located Mr. Murdoch's body on North Beach, on the north side of the inlet opposite Minister's Point. On the south side of that inlet, on North Beach Island, investigators found Mr. Murdoch's empty dinghy.
It is not clear whether Mr. Murdoch was attempting to access a boat on a mooring at the time of his death, which was not witnessed. Visibility at the time was less than two miles in fog and mist, and winds were from the southwest around 8 mph, with gusts near 25.
While the death is being investigated, officials say there is no reason to suspect foul play, according to a statement released by the Cape and Islands District Attorney's Office.
“There is nothing at this time to suggest the cause of death was anything other than accidental,” Assistant District Attorney Tara Miltimore wrote in an email. An autopsy will be performed by the office of the Chief Medical Examiner, and Miltmore said that will hopefully help investigators determine a cause of death.
Throughout the afternoon Monday, a small group of fishermen and friends gathered at the Chatham Fish Pier, waiting for news about the tragedy. Sightseers at the fish pier watched with curiosity as police, firefighters, the Coast Guard and the Massachusetts Environmental Police converged on the area.
A well respected member of the town's maritime community and a fixture around Chatham's waterfront, Mr. Murdoch owned Chatham Water Tours, a charter service that provides sightseeing tours and seal-watching trips around the harbor and Pleasant Bay. His daughter Kate and son David said his love of the water began during the childhood summers his family spent in Harwich.
“It's just in our blood,” said Kate. “He used to take a little 12-foot boat out across Nantucket Sound from Harwich to Nantucket, and his skiff into the hull of the Pendleton when it was sitting off Monomoy. He just was always on boats from the time he was a little kid, and from the time we were kids he had us on boats.”
Mr. Murdoch infused both his children with a similar love of the sea, inspiring each to obtain and maintain captains licenses.
“He taught us both how to run boats when we were little kids and we both inherited that love of the water,” said Kate, who works in the technology industry in Boston, while David is a local commercial fisherman.
Kate appreciates that her father had no qualms teaching her how to run boats, and many more skills that at the time most girls weren't learning.
“I grew up never thinking twice about the fact that I was the only girl running boats in the harbor,” she said. “I realize it's because my dad didn't think anything of it. My dad taught me the same as he taught my brother. As a result I wound up doing a lot of things that a lot of times girls aren't encouraged to do or don't feel comfortable doing.”
After working locally with her father Kate ventured to Boston where she ran water taxis and even drove a Boston Duck Boat.
David recalled his father finding a beat up rowboat along the shore and fixing it up so his son could putter around area waterways. In keeping with Mr. Murdoch's wit, the vessel was called the Peanut Putter.
“He had a very dry sense of humor,” said Kate. “He could drop in a one liner that would bring the house down.”
When he wasn't on boats, Mr. Murdoch was engaged in another passion: building miniature ships. Using tweezers and specialized tools, he built more than 20 boats, including one that was on display for quite some time in the lobby of the Cape Cod Five bank branch in Chatham.
“People have seen his models and probably don't realize they're 100 percent scratch built,” Kate said. “He didn't use a kit. He literally figured out how to make museum quality everything, functioning block-and-tackles, turnbuckles. If you were really tiny you could run it.”
Mr. Murdoch also volunteered much of his time at Chatham Elementary School where he delighted in reading books with the children. Prior to his work on the water, Mr. Murdoch was also a successful commercial photographer with a studio in Hyannis.
But what mattered most to Mr. Murdoch was his family.
“The most important thing in his whole world was his family,” said Kate. “My mom, Gay, and his kids, David's wife Karen, and Regan, his granddaughter, above all.”
Calling hours for Mr. Murdoch will be held Sunday, June 25 from 1-3 p.m. at Morris, O'Connor and Blute in Harwich, with a memorial service following on Monday, June 26 at 11 a.m. at the First Congregational Church of Chatham.