A U.S. Coast Guard cutter towed a Hampton Bays fishing vessel 69 miles back to the Shinnecock Inlet early Saturday morning after an electrical fire left it disabled and adrift in deteriorating weather for a day and a half.
Hampton Bays resident Mark Lofstad, captain of the 68-foot trawler, Tradition, said he and his two deckhands, whom he identified only as Eric and Ray, were beginning the third day of their trip catching squid when they noticed fire in the boat’s engine room at around 8:30 a.m. last Thursday, November 7. By the time they extinguished it roughly two hours later, the damage was already done.
Though no one was injured, the fire cut all power to the vessel, leaving it adrift in the Atlantic, without light or heat, nearly 70 miles south of the Shinnecock Inlet and its home port—the Southampton Town commercial dock off Dune Road.
Mr. Lofstad said the crew was able to signal nearby boats for help. The crew aboard the Rhonda Denise, a vessel out of Montauk, tried to tow in the Tradition, but the towline broke and the deteriorating weather conditions made it impossible to reconnect, he said. Winds were blowing between 20 and 25 knots and seas were at 5 to 9 feet, with the water temperature at 44 degrees, according to the Coast Guard.
The crew of the Rhonda Denise alerted Coast Guard Station Shinnecock of the disabled boat at 11:30 p.m. last Thursday, and stayed with the Tradition crew to help with communication until help could arrive.
“We have to thank the good Samaritans on the Rhonda Denise,” U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Jetta Disco said. “They were vital in acting as communication between the Tradition and the Coast Guard.”
An aircraft from the Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod offered to drop off a communications pack to the Tradition, but Mr. Lofstad said he made do with an auxiliary battery power source.
With weather conditions deteriorating and gale conditions expected offshore, the Coast Guard deployed the Coast Guard Cutter Sanibel from Woods Hole, Massachusetts, on Friday to tow the Tradition back to shore. Officials from Coast Guard Station Shinnecock explained that their smaller boats only patrol up to 15 nautical miles offshore while the bigger cutters can cover much larger areas.
It took several hours for the 110-foot Sanibel to reach Tradition, and with the added weight of its squid haul and rough sea conditions, it took even longer to tow the vessel back to shore. The tow broke loose once, Mr. Lofstad said.
They reached the Shinnecock Inlet at around 6 a.m. Saturday, where a 47-foot Coast Guard Station Shinnecock vessel met them and assisted with securing the damaged boat at the commercial dock.
“It’s not work, it’s a lifestyle,” Mr. Lofstad said of his chosen profession. “I love it.”
His cousin, Raymond Lofstad, who co-owns the Tradition, said the boat was formerly a longline called the Sea Hawk, and was featured on a Discovery Channel show called “Swords: Life on The Line” about intrepid New England fishermen. The vessel was later converted to a dragger.
He explained that it was difficult to fight the fire, which started in the engine room but spread up through the wiring to the cabin. He was not aboard the vessel during that trip.
“Anytime you’re in a fire, you’re in danger because you can’t get off the boat,” Raymond Lofstad said. “Once a problem arises, it’s just like everything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”
On Monday, the cousins were waiting for insurance representatives to assess the damage so they could begin making repairs. Though they hope to recoup the damages, Mr. Lofstad said every lost day will create more of a hardship for the members of his crew who are not paid when the boat is docked.
Mark Lofstad, a lifelong fisherman who was seemingly unfazed by the fire and ensuing tow, said he hopes to be back at work by the end of the week.
“Stuff happens—nobody got hurt, nobody was killed,” he said. “Not my first rodeo.”