Capt. Mike Ward pulled out of Orient at 8 p.m. Sunday, July 19, aboard the Cape Henlopen, bound for New London. Not far out, near the Plum Island buoy, he saw a strobe light flashing in the darkness.
“That wasn’t a good sign,” he said. “They were forecasting fog for that night up until 11 a.m. We saw this strobe light north of the buoy and we decided to check it out. We could see it was a vessel in distress, with five people on board.”
One lucky break, Capt. Ward said, was that the fog had not rolled in when they saw the light. “Had there been fog, we would have missed it,” he said.
Capt. Ward and his crew aboard the Cross Sound Ferry could see the boat was low in the water. There were five people on board what they could later see as they got closer was a cigarette-style racing boat. All those aboard were wearing life jackets.
“I told the guys to get the rescue boat ready and I alerted the Coast Guard,” Mr. Ward said. “We launched the rescue boat with two crew members aboard, Gerald Flanders and James Payton. We retrieved the five people and brought them alongside the ferry and we lowered a cradle to get them aboard.”
After the five were safely aboard, a Coast Guard boat from Fishers Island arrived and stayed on scene to make sure everything was OK.
“The whole thing took about 15 minutes,” Capt. Ward said.
Patrick Duan, one of the five, said they had left New London earlier in the day to enjoy a day on the Sound. At some point that evening a wave broke off the portside motor and the 30-foot boat started taking on water. He estimated it was about 9 p.m.
“It was dark and we used a flashlight with a strobe to get another boat’s attention,” Mr. Duan said. “We were about two miles out of New London.”
Once safely on board the Cape Henlopen, the five passengers disembarked in New London. He said he later learned the capsized cigarette boat had washed ashore on Fishers Island. “We went back the next morning and towed it home to New London ourselves,” Mr. Duan said.
What stands out in Capt. Ward’s mind is how lucky he and his crew were to see the light flashing in the darkness. “What was great,” he said, “was that once we got everyone onboard the passengers were clapping and cheering.”