Commercial vessel sinkings here in the northeast are not unusual, and anyone who receives the COMMERCIAL FISHING NEWS in the mail will find a section right in the front of this outstanding monthly industry newspaper on vessels sinking every month.
But getting back to my buddy J.S. telling me the story of the sinking of the TIKI, it made me take a look at other commercial vessels ending up going down due to heavy seas, shifting loads, icing and other natural and man made causes.
Let me start with this.......
The NJ SCUBA dive site may be one of the richest resources on information on fishing wrecks in this area. There are numerous stories buried within this site on ship wrecks, along with the events that have led to various vessels sinking over the years.
Here is one about the CAPE FEAR which went down a few years back off the Cape, and later was salvaged, towed and became part of the artificial reef off Moriches. The Cape Fear was sadly one of the vessels that went down in what was one of the worst months for commercial vessels in many years.
It brings us to this excellent book about what tragically occurred during that time period......
During the month and year of January 1999, FOUR vessels went down during a very short period of time. (I will note the f/v Predator with a 113 conch pots on board, went down off of Maryland taking the life of one man and leaving one survivor on Dec. 28, 1998) Interestingly a book was written about the events during this deadly time period in the book:
One in particular is a vessel that is commonly fished by the fishing fleet here in the NY BIGHT, the Point Pleasant based BETH DEE BOB.
The image and other information can be found at the: The Beth De Bob Shipwreck New York and New Jersey's Wreck Valley
The vessel for anyone who has personally fished it, is a reasonably large sized wreck that sank right near the edge of the Mud Hole in approximately 120 feet of water. The 84-foot steel quahog boat went down, along with scattering a number of its clam cages right alongside and the vicinity of this sunken vessel.
Anyone interested in the Official Coast Guard findings on the BETH DEE BOB SINKING:
INVESTIGATION ON THE CIRCUMSTANCES & SINKING OF BETH DEE BOB
Here is an outstanding 8 part series (7 of the 8 stories are online, the other was a picture) of stories on the sinking of the BETH DEE BOB, CAPE FEAR, ADRIATIC & the Rhode Island based ELLIE B using the Pt. Pleasant commercial docks before it went down, written by Douglas A. Campbell, who wrote the book THE SEAS BITTER HARVEST:
On the BETH DEE BOB
On the CAPE FEAR
On the ELLIE B & ADRIATIC
As noted by the author in the final part of this series:
And on the sand near the Manasquan Inlet, the last land eight of the doomed men ever saw, a spot has been set aside for a monument - a bronze sailor raising a lantern in honor of the men who will never return to that port.
The story on the Adriatic, a 74-foot clam dredge vessel can be read here:
Which finally brings me to this true life story from a friend who I work with, '.J.S.', who survived the sinking of the Point Lookout Long Island based TIKI a number of years back.
The TIKI was Brads boat and J.S. worked with him for years towing year around for the various species in this area. But one of the specialties of Captain Brad and the TIKI was towing for fluke, year around as the TIKI would fish right off the beaches here during the spring, summer and fall then following them out to the canyon during the winter.
It was during a January trip that the TIKI was having some fine fluke dragging out in the canyon. Captain Brad, along with J.S., and a another crew member 'Flash', were working around the clock as the fishing was nonstop, and the hold filling up quickly with fluke.
The weather was turning sour and Brad put into a phone call to Bruce who owned the fish packing house here in Point Lookout, and the talk was over the high price that would be paid if the TIKI could make its way back into Jones Inlet within the next day or so.
The last tow was made and TIKI was pointed north beatings its' way into a hard blowing northwest wind gusting easily over 50 mph at times. It was a slow go with tight sets of northerly rollers making their way southward, smacking into the bow of the TIKI. Combined with the freezing temperatures, ice was quickly building up all around the boat as every exposed surface on the vessel could not escape the icy water and spray.
All of a sudden a red bilge light signed that sea water was coming in from the rudder post at the stern of the vessel and upon checking it was found to be coming in at an uncontrollable rate.
Everyone remained calm as Captain Brad and the crew did everything possible over the next few hours to prevent the quickly rising water from taking the vessel down. The 15-20 foot seas hastened the filling up of the stern quarter of the vessel and eventually it became awash with green sea water now sloshing around on the rear deck, as their was no free board left to allow the scuppers to clear the constant waves crashing into the boat.
The time had come for Captain Brad to put in a final Mayday call to the Coast Guard....'were going down in the vicinity of 26 3XX by 43 1XX....'
J.S. said that everyone still remained calm, and no thought was given to the large amount of packed fluke in the hold which would go down to the offshore depths inside the vessel. It was time to put on a survival suit and make your way to the life raft, and pray that a Coast Guard cutter or helo was close by.
All three jumped on board the bobbing raft which was being tossed around by the never ending frothy rollers that was also slowly taking the TIKI down. One of the outriggers was already beneath the water, making the other point straight up in the air like a painted metal toothpick. The raft continued to make some distance away from the TIKI as she finally went under in the dark night.
I did not ask J.S. what thoughts he along with Captain Brad and the Flash had in the raft, since they knew a cutter was a few hours away. All he said was that within 20 minutes, a Coast Guard helo dispatched from Floyd Bennett Field came out of the darkness and rescued them.
But looking back, J.S. reminisced that maybe it would of been better if the TIKI would of worked its' way westward to one of the New Jersey ports such as Cape May, instead of taking it in the teeth running northward to Point Lookout, taking countless hours of unrelenting seas and storm force winds head on.
Fishing boat captains usually have great loyalty to pack out at the docks where they are berthed most times of the year, and the quoted high return was all too tempting to divert the TIKI from steaming to any other but her home port.
After they returned home, J.S., worked for a while for big Fred Lund down in Cape May, while Captain Brad was having a new boat built at Joe Rodriguez yard in Bayou La Batre. In 1988, the SEA RAMBLER was picked up by Captain Brad, and it has been sailing ever since, with J.S. working a number of years on it on till he left the fishing business.
It was said that the Beth Dee Bob, Cape Fear and Adriatic all sank almost without warning, but anyone who has fished on a commercial fishing vessel knows that there are those little signs, just like those signs that people have prior to a heart attack. Building seas, over loaded holds creating barely minimum free board, large unexpected shifting loads in the hold, back yard engineering, water entering the vessel from some area in the hull, and the coup de grace, large waves which finally roll the vessel.
The winter months here in the Atlantic are always the deadliest, and these are the stories of a few commercial fishing vessels and crew members that went down during the month of January.