Written by Jen Finn
Close to home
From U.S. Coast Guard Reports
On a cool, sunny February day near Hopedale, La., a 31-foot bayou shrimper was making its way back to port with three crew. She was moonlighting as an oyster dredge on this trip.
The skipper, mate and deckhand had worked four days hauling, cleaning, and bagging 130 sacks of oysters. The skipper and mate had fished together for some time. The deckhand was a greenhorn.
Around midday, the skipper noticed the wind began to gust. As he made way at 4 knots with a following sea, he cautiously navigated around shallow oyster reefs. The smell of bacon filled the cabin as the mate prepared lunch. The deckhand noticed the wind had picked up as he stood on deck trying to light a cigarette.
Very quickly, the situation began to unravel. A series of rogue waves hit the vessel's port quarter and buried the bow in the trough. The skipper backed down hard and fought the helm, but the waves continued to shove the vessel's bow down. Before anyone knew what had happened the shrimper was resting on its port side, and the cabin was filled with 50-degree bay water.
The skipper saw the deckhand was treading water. He grabbed him and told him to climb up on the starboard side of the shrimper and wait for him while he tried to locate his first mate.
He told the deckhand to try to signal another boat. With no operable VHF and no flares, the deckhand began waving his red jacket over his head.
The skipper swam in and out of the cabin in his search and soon started drifting in and out of consciousness. In the silence that fell after the engine died, the deckhand began to realize his skipper was in distress.
He brought him, exhausted and shivering, back to the stern of the vessel. They clung on to the rudderpost and exposed trim-tabs for dear life.
Luckily, another fisherman in the area had seen the deckhand's signal and steamed over. The good Samaritan hailed the Coast Guard. Several fishing boats in the area responded to the call and pulled the skipper and deckhand from the water.
The skipper told of the missing first mate in need of rescue. One of the fishermen providing assistance donned a wetsuit and began to search.
Minutes later, the mate was brought to the surface. The men performed CPR until the Coast Guard arrived and transported him to a nearby hospital.
Despite their efforts, the first mate was lost. The skipper and deckhand were lucky to walk away with cuts, bruises and the effects of mild hypothermia.
There was no survival craft or EPIRB onboard, but the skipper knew the importance of staying with the boat as long as it remained afloat. Although the deckhand had limited nautical experience, he was able to maintain his composure.
Because this shrimper was shorter than 36 feet, state registered, and performed fishing operations inside the boundary line, the skipper was not required to carry a life raft or EPIRB. The requirements in the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 and other developing regulations will affect boats in this class.
For more information, please visit www.fishsafe.info.
This article is based on U.S. Coast Guard reporting and is intended to bring safety issues to the attention of our readers. It is not intended to judge or reach conclusions regarding the ability or capacity of any person, living or dead, or any boat or piece of equipment.
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