Dramatic Boat Capsize and Rescue

By Daniel David Jones
Illustrations by: Wesley Allsbrook
Published: February/March 2013

A fishing trip off the New Jersey coast goes very wrong when five friends have to abandon ship, fast.

Illustration by: Wesley Allsbrook

Our fishing trip has been planned for weeks and started off without a hitch. There were five of us, all seasoned fishermen and good buddies, heading out to fish for tuna in the canyons off the coast of New Jersey. It was the first canyon trip for this particular boat, a 32-foot Scorpion powered by 100-horse twin outboards. The boat — an offshore racer geared up for big-game fishing — belonged to my friend George. It was the fastest boat I'd ever been on. On a normal canyon trip out of Ocean City, New Jersey, there's an average running time of about three-and-a-half hours to the fishing grounds, which are located about 60 miles out. With George's boat, we could be at the canyons in about an hour-and-a-half, adding four more hours of fishing time to our trip. It was still dark when we got underway at 5:30 a.m. The forecast called for offshore winds in the morning, tapering off with the seas dropping to less than two feet during the day. It would be calm for the first 15 to 20 miles of the trip, then we'd hit rough seas once we got offshore, which would flatten out as the day progressed.

The Situation Hits The Fan

Illustration by: Wesley Allsbrook

By 7:15 a.m., the seas hadn't flattened out at all, and progress was slow. Standing at the center console, George and I discussed turning back, but agreed to give it a little longer. At the speed we were going, it really wasn't that bad. As I started to head for my seat, I saw a large wave at the bow of the boat, and turned to keep my face from being sprayed with seawater. There was a slow jolt and a lifting sensation, followed by the force of rushing water that took my legs out from under me. The water was a shock, but the silence of the motors as I struggled to my feet was an even bigger one.

Everyone was stunned and tried to adjust to the situation. Tom stood next to me trying to start the engines. I tried bailing water with a five-gallon bucket, and thought I was doing well, until the next wave came over the transom, knocking me down. It was hopeless. Tom was already issuing a mayday, and I yelled our position to him with my eyes glued to the instruments. Water rushed in, and I felt my feet leave the deck as the boat started to sink from under us. Tom dropped the mike and headed for the bow where George, Art, and Joe were already ripping cushions off and throwing anything that would float into the water to create a debris slick. I couldn't believe it. The boat was sinking! As we strapped on life jackets, George yelled, "Did we get the mayday out? Did the Coast Guard receive it?"

"Yeah, I think so," I yelled back. "I think I heard a response."

"Who's got the time?" Art called.

"Seven-thirty," Joe answered. "Time to get out of the boat!" And he literally slipped into the water. The boat was sinking, stern first. Five minutes after the first wave hit, it had disappeared.

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Online Extra!

To see the Coast Guard report and search track from the rescue, as well as a newspaper clipping from the time, click here.

Survivors Daniel David Jones (left) and Art Higbee (right) Survivors Daniel David Jones (left) and Art Higbee (right) pose in front of U.S. Coast Guard helicopter, several years after their rescue.
So Others May Live

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