Maine sailors drown, despite wearing PFDs

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Two men from Owls Head, Maine, died in August after their 19-foot engineless sailboat, a Pearson Hawk, sank in Penobscot Bay.

Two men from Owls Head, Maine, died in August after their 19-foot engineless sailboat, a Pearson Hawk, sank in Penobscot Bay.

The body of John Syrett, 63, was found at about 7:45 a.m. Aug. 18 and the body of Peter Brauman, 62, was found at noon that day, the Coast Guard says. Both men were found wearing life jackets but the state medical examiner determined they died from drowning.

“There’s really no way for us to know how they drowned,” says Sgt. Marlowe Sonksen with the Maine Marine Patrol.

Although the weather was mild during the day, the wind picked up in the afternoon (blowing northwest at about 12 knots with gusts reaching more than 16 knots) and “might have been a contributing factor as to why their boat sank,” Sonksen says. The water temperature in Penobscot Bay was about 60 degrees and could have been a factor in the drownings, according to Sonksen.

“These guys did everything right. They went for a sail on a beautiful day and were wearing life jackets, but still something went wrong,” he says.

“A number of boaters on the bay that afternoon said, however, that wind gusts were stronger than what was recorded,” he adds.

At about 1 p.m. Aug. 17, Brauman and Syrett left Holiday Beach in Owls Head for a short sail around Monroe and Sheep Islands, a news report says. The men were expected to be back home around 5:30 p.m., and when they didn’t return their wives called the Coast Guard for help.

In response, the Coast Guard launched the cutter Tackle as well as a 25-foot rescue boat, a Falcon jet and a helicopter to help in the search. The Maine Marine Patrol was notified at about 8 p.m. and launched its own search.

Brauman’s and Syrett’s bodies were discovered by good Samaritans about 1.5 miles from Great Pond Island, Sonksen says.

The men didn’t have a cell phone or radio on board, according to the news report, so no distress call was made. The sunken boat has yet to be located.