A local Sea Tow captain was recently honored at a ceremony sponsored by his peers from across the country for saving a man’s life.
Captain Les Trafford, the owner of Sea Tow Shinnecock/Moriches, was one of seven individuals recognized at Sea Tow International’s annual meeting, held from November 18 to 21 in Charlotte, North Carolina, for their life-saving efforts during the past year.
On May 12, Capt. Trafford pulled Eastport resident Scott Finne from the Atlantic Ocean after the boat he was working on was capsized by a wave near the Shinnecock Inlet. Venturing out into the water in the face of chopping waves and blustery winds, Capt. Trafford maneuvered his 24-foot boat to the wreckage of the Pauline IV within 10 minutes of the accident and, with the assistance of a Suffolk County Police helicopter, found Mr. Finne clinging to a lobster buoy about a mile from shore. Mr. Finne was not wearing a life jacket.
“He put his own life on the line out there,” Cindy McCaffery, a spokeswoman for Sea Tow International, said of Capt. Trafford. “A lot of people think we do that every day, but, really, most of the time we’re just doing a tow or a fuel drop.”
Capt. Trafford, who hails from Hampton Bays, has received similar honors during the Southold-based company’s annual meetings in the past, although neither he nor Ms. McCaffery was sure of the exact number of times he has been honored. Capt. Trafford said he has saved eight people during his career, though he is quick to note that it is those he was unable to rescue who remain on his mind. They include Stian Stiansen, the 85-year-old captain of the Pauline IV, who was trapped inside his vessel and died after the boat capsized.
“You can save a dozen, but the ones you don’t save are the ones that stick with you,” Capt. Trafford said. “Those are the faces you remember.”
He added that not being able to rescue Mr. Stiansen was especially difficult because the East Quogue resident was a longtime friend. However, Capt. Trafford said he feels that he did the best he could to save Mr. Stiansen and takes joy in the fact that Mr. Finne has become an advocate for life jacket use since the accident.
Earlier this year, Capt. Trafford and Mr. Finne both helped promote Sea Tow’s life jacket loaner program, which stocks racks with freely available life jackets that people can borrow using the honor system. The racks are placed near marinas and at Sea Tow locations throughout the state, including the East End.
“The program must be working,” Capt. Trafford said, “or else so many of those life jackets wouldn’t have disappeared.”