SEA TOW RES­CUE HE­ROES

IT’S NOT AL­WAYS ABOUT GIV­ING YOU A TOW. SOME­TIMES THEY SAVE YOUR LIFE.

Boating - - CONTENTS - BY PETE MCDON­ALD

Think Sea Tow is only there to give you a tow? Here are five sto­ries where its cap­tains saved the day.

THE BOAT WAS IN NO-MAN’S LAND. I WAS TRY­ING TO FIG­URE OUT HOW TO GET TO THEM WITH­OUT BE­ING STUCK IN THE SAME SIT­U­A­TION.”

Last June, Capt. Clay Hughes and his col­league Capt. Ken­drick Schwartz were launch­ing a boat from a nearby ramp when Hughes, the owner of Sea Tow Ocean Isle in North Carolina, got a call from his dis­patcher. She’d heard a may­day call over VHF Chan­nel 16 from a boat in dis­tress near the no­to­ri­ously treach­er­ous Shal­lotte In­let. Act­ing quickly, Hughes jumped into the boat while Schwartz jumped into a sec­ond Sea Tow ves­sel on hand, and the two raced to­ward the boat in trou­ble. As they ap­proached the scene, Hughes ob­served a pow­er­less 24-foot cruiser adrift near a sand­bar, the waves push­ing it closer and closer to dan­ger. A cou­ple with their two young daugh­ters, ages 4 and 5, re­mained on board as the boat took on water. Hughes and Ken­drick had to act fast be­fore the sit­u­a­tion spi­raled out of con­trol. What, you thought be­ing a Sea Tow cap­tain was just about bring­ing you gas or pro­vid­ing a tow? Some­times they have to save lives too. Here are five sto­ries of Sea Tow cap­tains who went be­yond the typ­i­cal job de­scrip­tion, brav­ing rough seas and tough sit­u­a­tions to help boaters in dan­ger. Read how they saved the day and what we can all learn from each ex­pe­ri­ence.

POW­ER­LESS

As the 24-foot cruiser drifted closer to the sand­bar along the beach, Hughes and Ken­drick took dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to the dis­tressed ves­sel. Hughes, more ex­pe­ri­enced with the lo­cal wa­ters, ran out­side the bar and tried to ap­proach them from be­hind. Ken­drick ap­proached from in­side the bar, hop­ing to find a way to get close.

“The boat was in no-man’s land,” re­calls Hughes. “I was try­ing to fig­ure out how to get to them with­out be­ing stuck in the same sit­u­a­tion.”

Just then, a set of three break­ers rolled in and hit the boat hard to star­board. Over­whelmed, the boat quickly started go­ing down. The whole fam­ily, wear­ing their life jack­ets, jumped in the water. For­tu­nately, the out­go­ing cur­rent swept them over to Hughes, who quickly pulled the girls into the boat be­fore help­ing the par­ents over the tran­som. Within min­utes, only the bow of the boat re­mained above water as Ken­drick cir­cled the de­bris field to sal­vage the fam­ily’s per­sonal pos­ses­sions.

Hughes ran the fam­ily to a lo­cal firede­part­ment boat. The crew rushed them to shore and checked them over; all were un­harmed by the in­ci­dent.

“The Shal­lotte In­let is no­to­ri­ous be­cause its sand­bars are al­ways shift­ing,” says Hughes. “Un­for­tu­nately, we see a lot of this here.”

This story had a happy end­ing, largely due to the fam­ily’s ac­tions. “They all had on life jack­ets. The dad made a may­day call over the ra­dio, not the phone, and gave his ex­act co­or­di­nates from the GPS,” says Hughes. “The only other thing he could have done was drop the an­chor, but it hap­pened so quickly, he didn’t have time.”

LEAP OF FAITH

On a fall day on Shel­ter Is­land Sound, Long Is­land, New York, a crew of six were run­ning across the bay in a 37-foot go-fast boat when the driver sud­denly lost con­trol, eject­ing him­self and his five pas­sen­gers into the water. He was not wear­ing his kill switch, and the boat kept run­ning in cir­cles at a speed just over 20 knots. Capt. Bill Barker, owner of Sea Tow East­ern Long Is­land, headed to­ward the ru­n­away ves­sel, ac­com­pa­nied by Capt. Gar­rett Moore.

When the two ar­rived on scene, the six boaters had been safely re­moved from the water, but the boat still spun dan­ger­ously out of con­trol right off the busy water­front of Green­port, with no signs of stop­ping. Barker, a 100-ton Mas­ter and Sea Tow’s first fran­chise owner, deftly matched the speed and course of the ru­n­away go-fast and pulled up along­side it. Moore, in a dar­ing move, jumped from Barker’s Sea Tow ves­sel into the cock­pit of the ru­n­away boat and suc­cess­fully killed the engines, pre­vent­ing it from caus­ing a se­ri­ous ac­ci­dent.

The U.S. Coast Guard rec­og­nized the two cap­tains with Mer­i­to­ri­ous Pub­lic

Ser­vice awards for their ef­for tstostopthe boat. Had they not done such a stel­lar job, who knows what would have hap­pened?

COL­LI­SION COURSE

Week­ends off the coast of south­east Florida are al­ways busy, and on the morn­ing of June 19, 2016, Sea Tow Capt. Joe Leonardo of Fort Laud­erdale, Florida, was al­ready keep­ing an eye on a boat strug­gling near a reef just out­side of Hills­boro In­let when a cou­ple on a per­sonal wa­ter­craft ap­proached his ves­sel.

“They were fran­tic,” re­calls Leonardo. “They told me they’d col­lided with an­other PWC.” Leonardo fol­lowed them back to the other wa­ter­craft, where a woman was bleed­ing pro­fusely from in­juries on her leg.

“She looked like she’d been bit­ten by a shark,” says Leonardo.

Ap­par­ently, the two cou­ples had been joyrid­ing with each other when one PWC stalled out. The other PWC, still go­ing at a fast speed, col­lided with the stalled one, its bow run­ning right into the fe­male pas­sen­ger’s leg.

With the help of the stalled PWC’s driver, Leonardo pulled her over the tran­som of his boat and brought her to the bow, and used his shirt to wrap her leg and stem the bleed­ing. Act­ing quickly, Leonardo first called for an am­bu­lance to meet him at the fish­ing docks at a ma­rina just in­side the in­let. Next, he alerted the lo­cal port au­thor­i­ties that he would be vi­o­lat­ing the no-wake zones to bring the in­jured woman back to the dock.

Due to Leonardo’s fast re­sponse and quick think­ing, they were able to get her

THEY TOLD ME THEY’D COL­LIDED WITH AN­OTHER PWC. SHE LOOKED LIKE SHE’D BEEN BIT­TEN BY A SHARK.”

the med­i­cal help she needed within min­utes of his re­sponse.

“I’m sure if I didn’t get to her,” Leonardo says, “she would have been bad off.”

ROUGH PAS­SAGE

The weather could not have been worse off the At­lantic coast of east­ern Long Is­land on Mother’s Day 2013. But Stan Stiansen, owner of the 45-foot com­mer­cial ves­sel Pauline IV, had gone out any­way, be­cause that’s what com­mer­cial fish­er­men do. Upon re­turn­ing to port af­ter a suc­cess­ful haul, Pauline IV got into trou­ble in Shin­necock In­let, and Stiansen put out a dis­tress call.

“I was sit­ting in the of­fice when I heard the call over the fire-depart­ment band, and I jumped in the boat,” says Capt. Les Traf­ford of Sea Tow Shin­necock. “No­body else was go­ing out. I grew up here, so I was sure it was some­one I knew.”

The waves that day, mea­sur­ing 6 to 8 feet off­shore, dou­bled in size when they stacked up on the sand­bars around the in­let. Stiansen, 85 years old with decades of ex­pe­ri­ence, got hit by a 15-foot rogue wave.

“Stan caught a bad set,” re­calls Traf­ford. “The first wave caught him from be­hind and put the boat on its side. The next wave went over the decks and washed the deck mate, Scott Finne, over.”

Traf­ford, a 19-year Sea Tow vet­eran and 100-ton Mas­ter, ran his 24-foot Starfire out of the in­let. Its flush decks helped him shed water in the rough surf, and his twin MerCruis­ers to­tal­ing 800 hp helped him plow through the in­let.

Un­able to get close to Pauline IV, which at this point was stuck on a sand­bar, Traf­ford started cir­cling the de­bris field, look­ing for signs of life. A po­lice he­li­copter ar­rived on scene and helped guide Traf­ford to Finne, who had drifted a mile off­shore.

“He was cling­ing to a plas­tic net buoy and a piece of wood,” says Traf­ford, who pulled him out of the cold water and saved his life. Un­for­tu­nately, Stiansen had been trapped in­side the boat’s cabin, and Traf­ford was un­able to res­cue him.

While Stiansen and Finne knew the

HE WAS CLING­ING TO A PLAS­TIC NET BUOY AND A PIECE OF WOOD. IT COULD HAP­PEN TO ANY­BODY. STAN GOT CAUGHT IN SHAL­LOW WATER AT JUST THE WRONG TIME. I’VE SEEN GUYS IN THEIR 20-FOOT­ERS TRY TO DO THE SAME THING.”

dan­ger of run­ning an in­let in rough seas, most peo­ple don’t. Traf­ford es­ti­mates he’s pulled more than 30 peo­ple out of Shin­necock wa­ters in his 19 years work­ing with Sea Tow.

“It could hap­pen to any­body,” says Traf­ford. “Stan got caught in shal­low water at just the wrong time. I’ve seen guys in their 20-foot­ers try to do the same thing.”

ROCKY SIT­U­A­TION

Last Fa­ther’s Day, a dad and his three sons hired a lo­cal char­ter cap­tain for a day of fish­ing out­side Ma­son­boro In­let, near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. The cap­tain had them fish­ing on the tip of the rock jetty, us­ing his trolling mo­tor to keep his 22-foot cen­ter con­sole safely away from the rocks. But when the trolling mo­tor gave out, the cap­tain couldn’t get his out­board started in time, and the waves quickly swept the boat into the jetty. An­other an­gler, fish­ing on foot from the jetty, called for help over a VHF ra­dio. Sea Tow Capt. Ryan Sa­por­ito just hap­pened to be pa­trolling the in­let in his 26-foot Twin Vee not 100 yards away from the jetty and heard the call.

“I raced around the cor­ner, and they were al­ready on the rocks,” re­calls Sa­por­ito of that day.

Just then, a set of 5-foot waves rolled in, knock­ing the char­ter cap­tain out of the cen­ter con­sole and push­ing the boat up onto the jetty at a 70-de­gree an­gle. Sa­por­ito quickly heaved them a line, hauled each of the four pas­sen­gers to his Twin Vee and pulled them out of the water. The char­ter cap­tain was able to swim safely to an­other nearby ves­sel.

Thanks to Sa­por­ito’s de­ci­sive ac­tion, the whole in­ci­dent was over in about three min­utes.

“The cap­tain had tried to start his en­gine and drop his an­chor, but it all hap­pened so fast,” says Sa­por­ito. “If I hadn’t got­ten there in time, those four pas­sen­gers would have been in the water as 4to 5-foot waves pounded them against the rocks. It would not have been good.”

IF I HADN’T GOT­TEN THERE IN TIME, THOSE FOUR PAS­SEN­GERS WOULD HAVE BEEN IN THE WATER AS 4TO 5-FOOT WAVES POUNDED THEM AGAINST THE ROCKS.”

Capt. Les Traf­ford

Capt. Clay Hughes Capt. Gar­rett Moore Capt. Bill Barker Capt. Joe Leonardo

Capt. Ryan Sa­por­ito

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