Five fisherman survived being in the 39-degree waters of Cobscook Bay for up to three-quarters of an hour after their skiff overturned in Deep Cove, Eastport, on January 30. After one of the fishermen swam to shore to get help, the other four were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard, with help from a Cooke Aquaculture crew.
Following a morning of scalloping aboard the Princess Deanna, the five fishermen were coming ashore in a 14-foot aluminum skiff when the incident shortly after 12 noon. In the skiff were Adam Newell, owner of the dragger, Anthony Stanley, Abby Gabriel and David Francis, all from Sipayik, and Benjamin Neptune of Indian Township.
The wind was blowing across the cove with gusts up to 30 knots or more at the time. Newell relates, "We hit one wave that broke over the front of the boat, and water started coming in." After slowing down the outboard he told everyone to get to the stern of the skiff, but the shifting of the weight submerged the boat, throwing them all into the water.
They were over 300 yards from shore and were trying to figure out how to get on top of the overturned skiff when Neptune decided to swim for shore, since the boat started sinking when he got on. Calling himself "a decent swimmer," he says he did "all the strokes I know to stay alive," but stopped about three-quarters of the way to shore, which he says was a mistake, as he started freezing up. "I just pushed my hardest through it. I said, 'No, no, I'm not going to die today.'" He adds, "I didn't believe I'd make it to shore with all my gear on. I was in crisis mode. I wanted to save myself and get help for these guys."
"I could feel myself shutting down, slowly but surely," Neptune recalls. "I finally saw bottom, and that gave me hope." He estimates it took him about 20 minutes to swim the more than 300 yards.
When he got to shore by the old MacNichol wharf at Deep Cove he started walking down the road toward Eastport, when Newell yelled to him that the keys were in the car they had left there. Although he couldn't feel his feet, Neptune managed to drive the car "all over the road" till he came across David Morang and Frank Lank in two trucks stopped in the middle of the road just past the old dump site by Shackford's Head State Park.
Morang, who is Cooke Aquaculture's production manager for the state of Maine, immediately called the U.S. Coast Guard and 911, and Lank, who also works for the aquaculture company, mobilized a Cooke Aquaculture crew that was in Broad Cove. After following Neptune back to Deep Cove, Morang helped him get warm in his truck until an ambulance arrived, and they yelled to those with the skiff that help was on its way.
Meanwhile, Adam Newell helped calm those who had stayed with the skiff and told them to take off their boots that were filled with water. Francis said he knew they would be OK if they followed Newell's directions. Newell also managed to call 911. They were slowly drifting toward Shackford's Head and were an estimated 100 yards from shore when help arrived.
After receiving the call, Coast Guard Station Eastport had immediately launched a 29‑foot response boat, while its 45‑foot response boat crew was conducting training off Eastport and diverted to the area to assist. The 45‑foot response boat arrived on scene at the same time as a Cooke Aquaculture 27-foot skiff with David Morang Jr., Kevin Murray, Denny Lyons and Joey Lyons, and Cooke's tugboat with Mike Brown and Shane Williams. They found three of the fishermen holding onto the overturned skiff with one on top. Morang jumped on the Coast Guard vessel to help haul aboard Newell, Stanley, Gabriel and Francis. They were taken to the Eastport breakwater and transferred to Downeast EMS and Sipayik ambulances, which took them to the Calais Regional Hospital, where they all were soon released.
The skiff was loaded onto Cooke's tugboat, the Captain Paul, using its crane, and taken out at the company's plant at Broad Cove. The Cooke crew also managed to recover one of the fishermen's two buckets of scallops.
"It was a good response by the Coast Guard and my crew," says Morang. Referring to Neptune, Morang surmises, "If he hadn't made it no one would ever have known they were out there. They were fortunate people. I'm very thankful they're all right. We were just in the right place at the right time."
Neptune notes, "Thank God the Coast Guard was doing a training that day" near the area of the Estes Head port. The fishermen are grateful to the Coast Guard, Cooke Aquaculture, the fire department and EMS crews who helped them.
Morang estimates the fishermen had been in the water perhaps 15 minutes after the call was received until they were rescued. The four who were with the skiff were in the water for a total of between 35 and 45 minutes, they estimate. According to both the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the water temperature was 39 degrees. Although reactions of different people vary, it's estimated that in 39-degree water exhaustion and unconsciousness may occur within 15 to 30 minutes and survival time may be between 30 and 90 minutes.
Petty Officer 1st Class Nathan Holt, the executive petty officer of Station Eastport, says, "Because we already had a boat crew training nearby, our response time was significantly decreased. None of the people in the cold water were wearing life jackets or dry suits, so getting them out of the water quickly was critical. We very strongly recommend mariners wear weather‑appropriate protective gear when boating in cold weather, as hypothermia can occur in minutes."
Although life vests were in the boat, none of the fishermen were wearing them, and Neptune says there was too much weight in the skiff, with only about six inches of freeboard. Calling it "a hard lesson," Neptune says they will all be wearing life vests from now on. "It will all be safety now," he says, adding, "Everybody, wear your life jackets."