Smith Point Sea Rescue Report

A Smith Point Sea Rescue crew battles heavy seas on a May 8 mission.

Smith Point Sea Rescue (SPSR) editor Jim Bullard reported crews recently responded to the following calls for assistance:

January 8: At 8 a.m., Rescue 2 responded with a crew of four to a sailboat hard aground in the Coan River near Walnut Point. The captain of the 38-foot sailboat reported he had gone aground the night before and had expended all his fuel trying to break free. The crew on Rescue 2 attached a line and pulled the vessel free and into Lewisetta Marina for refueling. Time on call: three hours.

January 13:  At 9 a.m., a waterfront resident reported the engine on his center console had failed in Rock Hole Creek. A nearby member of Smith Point Sea Rescue responded with his personal boat and towed the vessel to Smith Point Marina for repairs. Time on call: two hours

January 18: At 11 a.m., the captain of a 45-foot fishing charter boat radioed a “May Day” call. This term indicates a life-threatening emergency—one can be fined for using this inappropriately. Sea Rescue, the U.S. Coast Guard and Virginia Marine Police all responded. The boat had struck an underwater object and was sinking in the mouth of the Great Wicomico. The boat was successfully towed to Tiffany Yacht Marina for repairs. Time on call: two hours.

January 20: At 1 p.m., Rescue 1 with a crew of four towed a disabled boat from Bridge Creek to Smith Point Marina. Two days later, the same crew towed the boat to Cockrell’s railway for haul out. Time on call: four hours.

February 1: At 8:15 a.m., the captain of a 20-foot oyster tender called 911 when his engine failed. Rescue 1 with a crew of four responded in cold, windy snow showers to the Little Wicomico River to tow the vessel and its two passengers to a nearby pier. Time on call: two hours

March 1: At 3 p.m., the owner of a 45-foot sailboat from Pennsylvania reported that his engine had failed and he was adrift south of Smith Point Light. Rescue 1 was dispatched from the Reedville boathouse with a crew of four and towed the sailboat with four passengers and a dog into Jenning’s Boatyard for repairs. Time on call, three hours.

April 6: At 10 a.m., Rescue 1, 2 and 3 were all dispatched to assist in the search for two boys in a kayak. The boys had reportedly set out from their home near Ridge, Md., the day before and were missing. Rescue 1 was sent to search the waters around Tangier Island, Rescue 2 searched both sides of the Potomac River while Rescue 3 searched from Smith Point to the Rappahannock River. The boys were eventually located safe and ashore near Coles Point. Sea Rescue provided 75 man-hours at a cost of more than $1,000 in fuel conducting this search. Time on call: 18 hours.

April 17: At 8:30 p.m., the captain of a 27-foot center console called 911 to report he was hard aground on the Fleeton sandbar in the mouth of the Great Wicomico River. Rescue 1 and a shallow water skiff scrambled with a crew of six. The skiff crew carried a towline into the stranded boat and passed the line to Rescue 1 waiting in deep water. The boat was then pulled off the sandbar and into deep water where it was able to proceed under its own power. Time on call: three hours.

April 24: At 2:15 p.m., the captain of a 62-foot, 30-ton, twin masted schooner reported he was aground in Judith Sound on the Potomac River. Rescue 2 with a crew of six departed their base at Olverson’s Marina and found the huge ship hard aground in a falling tide. After numerous attempts to move the vessel, it was agreed the owner would spend the night on his ship and try to free it at high tide. At about midnight, the sailboat floated free and was anchored in deep water. The following day, the vessel motored to Coan River Marina. Time on call: three hours.

At 3:45 p.m., the owner of a recently acquired 22-foot center console called 911 to report he was “stuck in the jetties.” The “jetties” is local slang for the narrow and short canal that connects the Little Wicomico River and the Potomac River. The jetties are notorious for the swift current that flows in and out as the tides change. To be “stuck in the jetties” was a first in the 47-year history of SPSR. 

Rescue 1 with a crew of five responded and found the boat with eight aboard locked in the jetties. It seems the owner had lowered a hydraulic anchoring power pole (on the stern of his boat) deep into the soft bottom. When he went to raise the pole, the cables snapped as the power of the current had actually bent the pole. There was no way to raise it manually.

Hmm, thought the rescue crew, now what? First thing was to transfer six of the children (no lifejackets) and a senior from the unstable boat into Rescue 1. Next, a crew member with marine engineering experience climbed aboard the stranded boat to find a solution to a problem never-before encountered. In the end, he used large bolt cutters to cut the power pole frame off the stern, freeing the vessel. Those who have traversed these jetties can imagine the bedlam this rescue caused to boat traffic. Time on call: three hours.

April 29: At 11:30 a.m., Rescue 1 with a crew of five towed a disabled 42-foot cabin cruiser from Crane’s Creek to Tiffany Yachts. Time on call: two hours.

May 8: At 11:15 a.m., the captain of a 21-foot center console called from the middle of the Potomac River to report his engine would not start. This was the first day of rockfish season with small craft warnings issued for high winds and seas of 4-6 feet. The captain reported there were four men aboard in very heavy seas. Rescue 2 was dispatched from Olverson’s Marina with a crew of four and pounding through huge waves found the disabled boat low in the water between buoys 7 and 5. With effort, they were able to slowly tow the fishing boat into Lewisetta Marina where the men had left their trailer. Time on call: five hours.

The members of SPSR remind boaters to adhere to warnings relayed by the Coast Guard and the National Weather Service.

Smith Point Sea Rescue is a totally volunteer rescue unit which serves boaters from Coles Point to the mouth of the Potomac River, south to the Rappahannock River and across the Bay to the eastern shore. The organization receives no regular governmental monetary support and depends solely on donations to fund their operations. 

Smith Point Sea Rescue does not charge for its services and can be reached on VHF channel 16 or by calling 911. Rescue 1 is based in Reedville, Rescue 2 on Lodge Creek near Callao and Rescue 3 at Smith Point.

A Smith Point Sea Rescue crew battles heavy seas on a May 8 mission.