GLOUCESTER, Mass. (AP) - The story is as chilling as it is all too familiar here in America’s oldest fishing village, where for centuries fishermen, in pursuit of the ocean’s bounty, have fallen prey to nature’s full force and elements that inexorably overwhelm all that is human.
On Thursday, in the rushing darkness of a winter twilight, the three-man crew of the 51-foot Orin C went into the water and only two emerged safely onto the deck of the U.S. Coast Guard’s 47-foot lifesaving boat out of Station Gloucester.
David Sutherland, 47, of 10 Montvale Ave.- known to all along the waterfront as Heavy D -died in the water as the Coast Guard tried to rescue him after his slime eel boat sunk about 12 miles off Thacher Island.
“At the end of the day, we managed to save two men, but we lost one and that’s heartbreaking for his family, this community and for us,” said U.S. Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Robert Lepere, the commander at Station Gloucester.
The sinking is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board with assistance from the Coast Guard. No cause of death has been released.
The story began to unfold about 9:30 Thursday morning, when Phil Powell of Swampscott, captain of the ground fishing boat Foxy Lady, received word from Sutherland that the Orin C was taking on water and in trouble.
“I was about 25 miles out and Dave Sutherland called me from his boat,” Powell said. “He was out off Wildcat Knoll and they had broken down and needed assistance. I steamed for two hours, about 16 miles, to reach him and then we started the tow.
“I wasn’t going to leave him alone out there.”
While under tow, the winds started to blow with a greater fury, howling between 30 and 35 knots, while the seas rose from 8 feet to 10 feet.
Powell said the tow went well for the first five hours despite the fact they were using a short line.
But then the seas got worse.
“One wave hit him and brought his bow down and the second wave came and went over the top of his roof, opening up the front super structure of the boat,” Powell said. “At that time, about 3, I called the Coast Guard for assistance and they put a boat on route that was two hours away.”
Lepere said the station already was monitoring the situation by radio and, given the escalating wind and high seas, began readying the 47-foot lifeboat. He said that boat got underway at 3:33 p.m. with nine crew aboard. By then, the seas were between 10 and 12 feet.
The Foxy Lady continued towing the Orin C in the worsening seas until the Coast Guard boat arrived. Lepere said the life boat reached the other two boats about 4:45 p.m. after cruising 13 miles.
“We discontinued the tow and the Coast Guard took over,” said Powell, a commercial fisherman of 31 years.
The first order of business was transferring a pump aboard the Orin C, but that proved difficult in the heaving water. Finally, they got the pump aboard and began to tow the Orin C toward land, but the pump was unable to keep up as water kept crashing over the bow.
“They towed him for approximately an hour, an hour-and-a-half,” Powell said. “He was still taking on water. They couldn’t maintain the pump to keep it running. The pump kept clogging with debris from the bilge.”
Finally, the Coast Guard personnel cut the tow line and told the men to get into their safety life suits and get in the water one at a time, Lepere said.
The three men aboard the Orin C got into their suits and were standing at the stern of the boat when another wave just engulfed the boat, sending one whole side of it below water.
“The decks were awash and the boat just came out beneath their feet,” Powell said.
They were in the water and darkness was everywhere.
The Coast Guard, following protocol, began extracting the fishermen one-by-one from the water. Sutherland, according to Powell, was the last man in the water.
“By the time they got to Dave, they found him with his head in the water, unresponsive,” Powell said.
“Our guys picked up the first two guys out of the water and the third was just kind of on his back, backstroking,” Lepere said. “And then he stopped, not moving at all. So we put a swimmer in the water.”
The swimmer got Sutherland back to the Coast Guard vessel, but the fisherman remained unconscious and unresponsive when he was hauled on deck.
“There was no pulse and he wasn’t breathing,” Lepere said. “We began administering CPR and stayed at it for 45 minutes to an hour on the back deck of the 47.”
The Coast Guard, which had been heading for Rockport, decided to divert to Gloucester to coordinate efforts with Gloucester police and emergency services personnel.
They arrived in Gloucester about 10:30 p.m. and were met by Gloucester emergency personnel and the medical examiner. Sutherland was pronounced dead at that point. The two other crew were uninjured, according to the Coast Guard.
“It’s a terrible situation that we see too often in Gloucester,” said James Destino, Gloucester’s chief administrative officer. “Whether it’s the regulations these fishermen fish under these days, or a lack of money to maintain their boats, or pushing them to fish in dangerous weather, it’s a very dangerous way to make a living.”
“Our sympathy is with his family and friends,” said Destino.
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard is broadcasting a safety notice to mariners navigating in the vicinity of where Orin C is thought to have sunk.
On Friday, Powell, clearly weary from the previous night’s events, was asked if he’d ever been through anything like that before.
“Many times,” he said. “I’ve done other sea rescues in years past and I’ve been rescued in years past. We don’t leave our friends behind.”
Information from: Gloucester (Mass.) Daily Times, https://www.gloucestertimes.com
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