Two Vineyard fishermen barely survived a boating accident south of Noman's Land on Wednesday morning. Scott Terry, 51, a West Tisbury artist and avid commercial rod and reel fisherman, has a black eye and a few bruises, but is very much okay after the boat he was operating flipped in a rogue wave. He and his crewman, 13-year-old Mitchell Pachico of Vineyard Haven, were both in the water for a short time.
They spent most of their time, awaiting rescue, sitting on the dry part of the overturned hull. They ended up swimming ashore on Noman's Land and were later rescued by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter and brought back to the Vineyard.
The 24-foot Privateer, a boat called the Milton James, ended up being destroyed some time later by the waves on a beach on the rocky Southeast side of Noman's Land. The boat was not insured.
"I have a black eye. I have no idea what hit me," said Mr. Terry yesterday.
Last Sunday, Mr. Terry had an artist's opening at the Granary Gallery. His work has been displayed at that gallery for at least 15 years.
Young Mr. Pachico will be celebrating a lot more than his 14th birthday with his family on Sunday. Yesterday, Mr. Pachico was working at John's Fish Market with his relatives, busy as ever. Young Mr. Pachico is the son of Glenn Pachico, a close friend of Mr. Terry. "From the very beginning I was very concerned about Mitchell. Mitchell is the best fisherman I have ever had on my boat. I would rather fish with him than any adult," Mr. Terry said.
Mr. Terry said Wednesday morning started much like a lot of fishing trips. "We left the dock at 3:45 a.m. We fished at Gay Head and found it hard to find fish. Then we went to Squibnocket. There were big swells but there were so few fish. It was very slow. I know that whenever there are any kind of swells, the fishing will sometimes be good at this Noman's Land spot."
Once at his favorite spot, he said: "I have to say that the swells were not as bad as the swells were at Squibnocket."
Mr. Terry said they were a good quarter mile offshore from Noman's Land. "We were fishing in the back of The Break," he said. The area is called The Break because this is where the fish congregate in an area where the large offshore waves come and break. "I'd say it was 200 yards offshore," he said.
It was about 7 a.m. "It looked like the fishing was going to be good. We'd get our fish and come home. I turned the boat around to make another drift. Mitch was in the back. He cast his line.
"I turned to go back and cast. I got halfway to my rod when a wave came up without warning," Mr. Terry said.
"It was so weird. I don't know if I have ever seen it like that," he said. "The water went straight up. I would say it went 15 to 20 feet up. And just as everything came together, the wave hit the boat broadside, perfectly broadside," Mr. Terry said. "If anything had been an iota different, we would have been okay. The wave picked us right up to the top. When we got to the top the wave broke. I yelled to Mitch to hold on. I tried to turn the wheel. I got up inside of the cabin, I got my hand on the wheel."
The wave threw the boat into the air. It flipped the boat upside down. "We actually fell through the air, I'd say 10 feet, before we hit the water," he said.
Mr. Terry said he found himself in the cabin of an upside-down boat. "I had no idea where Mitchell was. There were a lot of bubbles, a lot of turbulence. I had that clear thought that if I panic, I am dead. If I don't panic, I have a chance to get out," he said. "I tried to feel for the gunwale and I pulled myself out.
"When I came to the surface I was happy. Mitchell was hanging on the side of the boat."
The two did not have their life jackets on. "We have life jackets on board. I can tell you one thing, I will never be out there again without a life jacket," Mr. Terry said.
As the two were in the water, it became apparent that the upended boat was afloat and even fairly stable. Mr. Terry said he and the boy climbed up onto the bow. "We were a long way out and the surf was rough. We were drifting to shore. What saved us was that the boat was so stable. It has a big cabin and it acted like a rudder on a sailboat. The stern was facing right at the waves. Of course the motor had shut off instantly," Mr. Terry said.
"There was a lobster boat that came within viewing distance of us. But the guy didn't see us," Mr. Terry said.
Mr. Pachico said he was amazed that the lobsterman didn't see them. "It was crazy. He was so near to us. He even drove towards us but went back to hauling. I didn't believe he couldn't see us. He wasn't that far from us," Mr. Pachico said.
Mr. Terry said they were on the black hull of Milton James for at least 40 minutes. The two were wearing T-shirts and long pants. "I made Mitchell take his boots off in case we had to swim. We felt okay sitting on the boat," Mr. Terry said. "We weren't cold, the sun was out, we would dry off until one of the bigger swells came."
They both observed that they were drifting closer to the Noman's Land shore.
Mr. Terry said they observed a familiar looking boat in the area. The boat belonged to Stephen Pietruska of West Tisbury, a fire chief from Fall River. He, too, is a commercial fisherman and was operating a 24-foot powerboat.
"I knew he came to the area to fish the same spot," Mr. Terry said. "At this point, the boat was so stable, I stood up and waved at him. I could see he was speeding up. But we were way inside of the break so he couldn't get to us. So his son, Stephen, stood up on the roof and waved his shirt at us." It was then that Mr. Terry and young Mr. Pachico knew that the Coast Guard would be notified.
The U.S. Coast Guard received a call from Stephen Pietruska at 7:51 p.m. A Jay Hawk helicopter took off from Otis Air National Guard base at 8:20 a.m. and was on scene in 10 minutes.
But before the helicopter had arrived, the two fishermen had drifted close enough to the Noman's Land beach to swim ashore.
"We got within 50 feet of the beach. There were big rocks. Swells picked us up and dropped us back on a rock, dumping us off the boat. Mitchell and I could swim so we started swimming ashore," Mr. Terry said.
"The hardest part was getting ashore, because it was a rocky bottom. I told Mitchell to let the wave push him in. It took us a long time to get on the beach," Mr. Terry said. "Each time a big wave came it would knock you down. I told Mitchell to wait for the wave to bring him ashore."
Once ashore, the two fishermen walked inland and started climbing the cliff. The cliffs on the southeast side of the Island rival those of Gay Head. They are both tall and steep. "We were halfway up the cliffs when the helicopter arrived. They landed on the top," he said.
The helicopter picked up the two at 8:30, according to a Coast Guard log of the event.
Mr. Terry said they were asked where they wanted to go, and he said Martha's Vineyard Airport. Mr. Terry said once they got to the airport, they called the Pachico family and were picked up.
Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Terry was back out on the waters of Noman's trying to salvage his boat.
He said Dale McClure had a barge and a crane and was doing work for the National Fish and Wildlife Service. They went back to the scene in Glenn Pachico's lobster boat, Mirage, with a friend, Zachary Tilton.
They found little to salvage. The boat had already been completely pounded apart by the waves. "There was very little left of the hull, almost nothing. The back hull was wedged between rocks and both gasoline motors were attached," Mr. Terry said. "We got a rope around the motors," he said. They were not able to pull it off because it was low tide and the remnants were high and dry.
Mr. Terry said he planned to make another effort to salvage the remains yesterday, as that is a requirement of the Coast Guard. "I want to get it off the beach," he said.
Young Mr. Pachico said of Mr. Terry: "He's a good guy. I like going fishing with him a lot."