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Mishaps and Rescues September 2011

Waiting for the tide

The 48-foot fishing vessel Sisiutl is hard aground in Portage Bay, Alaska. Winds were 35 mph, and seas were running 4 to 8 feet at the time of the grounding. When the tide came in, the boat was towed to Kodiak and hauled for repairs.

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Right place, right time when violent storm hits

In a span of about 45 minutes, David Esposito and his two crewmembers saved eight people, including a 2-year-old girl, from the roiling waters of the Susquehanna River during a violent hailstorm with 65-mph winds.
The dramatic rescue received no media coverage — until now — says Esposito, 48, who lives in Strasburg, Pa., and was running his 2006 Sea Ray Amberjack 270 when the storm hit on Aug. 15, 2010.

“Nobody knew these people were in trouble,” says Esposito, who grew up in Stamford, Conn., boating on Long Island Sound. “Nobody knew they were in the water, and nobody else was close enough to save them. In the end, two boats and eight people were saved with no injuries.”

The storm developed quickly. First, the sky darkened. That’s when Esposito, his wife, Darlene, 56, and their friend Gary Sikorski, an electrician from Shelton, Conn., began motoring back to the Port Deposit, Md., boat ramp on the Susquehanna. Pounded by hail, they heard the screams of three people whose 15-foot bass boat was swamped. “Water was all the way to the top of the gunwales,” Esposito says.
Powerless and without communications, the boat was drifting fast and about to crash into a concrete I-95 bridge pylon. “We got a line to them and got them under tow and pulled them away from the bridge,” Esposito says.
After the three were aboard, Esposito started heading upriver, back to the ramp. Within minutes, they heard voices again. Shane Youlton, 23, and two women in their early 20s were huddled in the water, holding a small child. The boaters had become separated from their 1959 14-foot Whirlwind, which sank after being swamped by a wave. The women and child were wearing PFDs; Youlton says the boat sank before he was able to don his own.
“They were hysterical,” Esposito says. “When we got there, all we heard was, ‘Save our baby! Save our baby!’ “
Darlene Esposito tried to calm everyone. “Once we had gotten them on board the only one that wasn’t crying was the baby,” says Darlene Esposito, a chiropractor and a former EMT and instructor for a company that taught in-water rescue to emergency workers. “They just started screaming and wailing.”
A fourth crewmember — another woman in her early 20s, who couldn’t swim — was still with the Whirlwind, clinging to the only visible part of the boat — the bow. “She kept screaming, ‘No, I am not letting go! I can’t swim!’ “ Darlene Esposito recalls. “She had a life preserver around her neck, but it wasn’t attached, so I think that if she had let go she would have drowned.”
They tossed her a life ring several times, and once she grabbed it they pulled her to the boat and out of the water. Youlton, an ironworker from North East, Md., remained calm and “tried to make sure everyone was safe,” the survivor says. Moments after the final passenger was out of the water, “I just lost it,” Youlton recalls. “That’s when everything hit me. It was my dad’s boat, and my grandfather’s boat before that. My grandfather died and handed the boat down to my dad; my father died and handed the boat down to me.”
Youlton and crew had been in the water for about 20 minutes, and he points out that it was Sikorski who spotted him. “I knew I had to get up on top of one of the waves for them to see me,” he says. “I rode a 6-footer and it brought me out of the water to about my waist, and I started yelling and screaming and waving my arm.”
Youlton had the use of only one arm because of a shoulder injury he had suffered the previous week. With the bad shoulder and no life jacket, he says he would not have made it had Esposito not come along. “My shoulder was giving out on me,” Youlton says. “In another 20 minutes I would have been dead. I told them I don’t know how to ever repay you. It was the scariest day of my life.”
With the bass boat still in tow but the storm subsiding, Esposito motored to the Port Deposit boat ramp, where police and paramedics determined that no one was injured. Youlton says he had nightmares for weeks and was unable to get on a boat for months.
“I know this isn’t what a lot of people want to hear, but I think it was in God’s hands,” says Darlene Esposito. “We were in the right place in the right time.”
Youlton says he learned a valuable lesson from the experience: Make sure those on board know how to properly don a PFD. He says he was unaware that one of his passengers was unable to swim and was unfamiliar with boats and PFD use. “She had it on completely backwards,” Youlton says of the Type II life jacket. “Since then, before I get under way, I ask [the crew], ‘Do you know how to put on a life jacket?’ If they don’t, I show them until they get it right … because I will never, ever live through that again.”
John M. Jones, a Maryland Natural Resources Police officer who was called to the boat ramp that day to document the incident, speaks highly of the Espositos and Sikorski. “They rose to the occasion,” he says. “They acted swiftly and appropriately, without question.”
And it turns out Youlton’s friends rose to the occasion, too. They were able to refloat his wooden runabout.

David Esposito

- Chris Landry

Lucky Teens

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These young sailors are all smiles after their 12-foot catamaran capsized about 200 yards off Ponte Verde Beach, Fla. All were wearing PFDs and sitting atop the boat at the time of the rescue.

Three N.H. lobstermen saved
Rye, N.H.
A Coast Guard crew rescued three Strafford, N.H., men who were lobstering when their 18-foot boat capsized June 24 about a mile off Rye, N.H. The Rye Fire Department contacted Station Portsmouth Harbor about 10:30 a.m., reporting that the men had called 911 after a wave came over the stern and the boat capsized.
“These men are really lucky,” says Petty Officer 3rd Class John Matthews, officer of the day at Station Portsmouth Harbor. “The water [was] only 57 degrees and they weren’t wearing life jackets. In water that cold, it doesn’t take long for hypothermia to set in.”
The men, ages 20, 21 and 22, were unhurt.

Seven lost as charter boat sinks
Sea of Cortez

A C-130 Hercules crew from Coast Guard Air Station Sacramento, Calif., completed searching an 803-square-mile area July 12 in the Sea of Cortez near Isla San Luis, Mexico, as part of a wider effort to find seven Americans missing from a charter fishing boat that sank July 3. There were no plans for additional flights, and the Mexican navy officially suspended search operations.
More than 40 people were on the fishing boat, according to several reports. The Mexican navy and other fishing boats rescued 35 of them. The Coast Guard conducted 10 aircraft missions with Hercules C-130 turboprop aircraft out of Sacramento and HH-60 Jayhawk helicopters from Air Station San Diego, searching more than 7,303 square miles.
“I am grateful that we have such strong relationships with search-and-rescue officials in Mexico and well-established procedures for working together,” says Rear Adm. Joseph Castillo, commander of the Coast Guard’s 11th District. “Despite the thorough search of the region by Mexican and U.S. search teams, no signs of the missing men were found. Our deepest sympathies go out to the friends and families of the missing men.”

The Mexican navy helped rescue 35 of the anglers from the charter boat.

Mackinac race’s first fatalities
Lake Michigan

The sailing community mourned the loss of two competitors who died in July after capsizing in a violent storm during the Chicago Yacht Club’s annual Race to Mackinac, which runs from Chicago’s Monroe Harbor to Mackinac Island in Michigan.
“It’s the first fatality in the history of the race, and this is the 103rd,” Chicago Yacht Club communications manager Rachelle Treiber says.
The Kiwi 35 WingNuts capsized after midnight July 17 in 4- to 6-foot seas and 50-mph winds about 13 nautical miles northwest of Charlevoix, Mich., and 10 miles east of South Fox Island, according to Petty Officer 3rd Class George Degener, a public affairs specialist for the Ninth Coast Guard District in Cleveland. The lost sailors are WingNuts skipper Mark Morley, 51, and Suzanne Bickel, 41, both from Saginaw, Mich.
The crew of the competing sailboat Sociable, a Beneteau 40.7, recovered the other six crewmembers from WingNuts. The survivors were Christopher Cummings, 16; John Dent, 50; Stan Dent, 51; Peter Morley, 47; Stewart Morley, 15; and Lee Purcell, 46. Sociable reported the capsize to the Coast Guard at 12:40 a.m. July 18. Morley and Bickel were found about eight hours later by rescue divers, Degener says.
One of the racing boats recorded wind speeds of 100 knots, according to an article in a e-newsletter. “There was more wind than I’ve ever experienced in 35 years of racing all over the Great Lakes and on the oceans,” Peter Wenzel, a co-skipper on the Fast Tango, told the newsletter.

- Chris Landry

This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue.