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Day on the water ends with a rescue

Recreational fisherman saves Lynn, Mass., couple after their 35-foot lobster boat sinks

Recreational fisherman saves Lynn, Mass., couple after their 35-foot lobster boat sinks

A good Samaritan boater rescued a Lynn, Mass., couple on June 13 after their lobster boat sank off Pig Rock in nearby Marblehead, forcing them into the sea.

Charles Randall, 65, and his wife, Carol, 58, were aboard their 35-foot Bruno lobster boat, Miss Swampscott, when it began rapidly taking on water. The couple put out a mayday distress call and entered the 55 F-degree ocean wearing life jackets seconds before the boat gurgled and sank.

The Coast Guard dispatched three rescue boats — one from Point Allerton Station in Hull and two from Gloucester — but before any arrived on scene, the couple was plucked from the water by an alert mariner.

Henry R. Dupuis of Danvers, Mass., was aboard his 20-foot recreational fishing boat, Moving Violation, when he heard the mayday and went to the rescue.

Dupuis, 37, was fishing for striper bait in his 19-foot Sea Swirl cuddy cabin when he heard the radio distress call. He was less than three miles away from the scene.

“The cabin was sticking up out of the water and I could see the man and woman were knee deep, so I just floored it,” he says. “By the time I got to them they were in the water and the boat was going down fast. I witnessed it go under.”

His initial reaction was to grab the woman and pull her up over the gunwale. “But she wasn’t that light and she was dressed for winter. I thought I was going to pull her arm off,” he says. “I didn’t want to flop her aboard because with the fish well and all my equipment there isn’t much room.”

To complicate matters, the swim ladder was cluttered with a stack of buckets lashed together with tie-wraps. Dupuis unfastened the buckets and helped the couple up the rungs as the chop increased off Marblehead Neck.

“When I finally had them safe I called the Coast Guard to let them know. Then we tried to save some of Charlie’s gear — his survival suits and things like that floating on the surface,” he says.

“We had been in the water for about 10 minutes when this fellow came up in his boat,” says Randall, who grew up in Swampscott, Mass., and still keeps his commercial lobster boat in the town’s harbor. “We were too excited to think about the water temperature.”

Dupuis lowered his swim ladder and helped the couple aboard. It was shortly after 8 a.m.

According to Randall, a faulty engine exhaust hose or the bait cleanout drain likely caused the leak that sent Miss Swampscott to the bottom.

“I suspect it was the exhaust hose because she went down stern first,” he says. “We didn’t even have time to put on the survival suits. It’s not easy to get into them. We just grabbed our life jackets and that was it.”

The first Coast Guard boat on the scene — lights flashing and sirens wailing — cleared a path through the congested mooring field in Marblehead Harbor with Dupuis following close behind. “It was like something out of a movie,” he says. “Forty knots right up to the Boston Yacht Club dock. I hadn’t been out in my boat in over a month because I’ve been working on my house. First time out in five weeks and this happens. But it worked out perfectly.”

Fire Department personnel and an ambulance were waiting for the couple on shore. Although not injured, the Randalls were examined at Salem Hospital for signs of hypothermia. “We were cold, but we’re OK,” Randall says.

The Coast Guard reported the boat sank in about 50 feet of water.

Randall, a longtime commercial fisherman, said he typically sets out 300 traps but only a few were in the water because the lobster season was just beginning.

“My wife works at a nursing home and she usually goes out with me on Sundays. That’s her day on the boat,” he says, adding that they were jigging for fish when Miss Swampscott started to sink.

Randall says the white fiberglass-hull boat was insured through the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association and probably would be salvaged. “I’d guess they’re going to raise it,” he said. “I’d like to find out soon because if I’m going to keep fishing, I’ve got to get the boat squared away and my traps in the water.”

David Liscio is a contributing writer for Soundings.