Washburn & Doughty boat with East Boothbay chief mate rescue drifting fishermen

Wed, 12/14/2022 - 5:00pm

    On Tuesday, Oct. 11, the Linda Moran, a 689-ton articulated pusher tug built in 2008 at Washburn & Doughty in East Boothbay, was having “a typical run,” according to Chief Mate Dave Goodwin of East Boothbay.

    The boat was making its way from Louisiana to Florida about 55 nautical miles south of Mobile, Alabama with 110,000 barrels of clean oil including gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, just as it did three to four times every month.

    At the 11:30 watch change, Goodwin had just come to the pilothouse to relieve the captain, when the captain noticed something in the distance. “Is that a flare?” he asked.

    Goodwin checked using binoculars and answered, “It’s a life raft.”

    “The raft was hard to see because of the sun’s glare,” Goodwin explained. In fact, as he would later learn, the raft was so hard to see, it was almost run over by a passing ship.

    The small life raft with two fishermen from Destin, Florida was 1.25 nautical miles away. One of the men was standing up in the raft waving a flare.

    As the Linda Moran’s crew would later learn, that flare was the last of six the fishermen had. The rest were already used to try to signal ships during the two and a half days they drifted in the Gulf of Mexico.

    “They were almost abeam of us at a 90-degree angle on our port side,” Goodwin said. “We made a hard left turn.” The offshore tug and barge are 510 feet long, but Goodwin knew there was plenty of room to make the turn.

    He called down to the galley, telling the nine crew members a life raft was spotted and asking some of them to come up onto the barge for the rescue.

    As the Linda Moran neared the raft, one of the stranded men wanted to swim to the tug but was encouraged to paddle to the boat instead. Reaching the barge, the men tied the raft to it and climbed 10-12 feet up the side onto the deck. The raft was then hoisted up behind them. 

    “Where are you from?” “Are you in good health?” “What are your names?” they were asked so the Coast Guard could be notified.

    The men explained they were on a 36-foot fishing boat anchored up for the night. Sometime in the middle of the night, they heard the boat’s high bilge alarm. The boat sank moments later, and they quickly got into the raft, the fishermen said.

    Aboard the Linda Moran, the fishermen contacted their families who did not know that the fishing boat sank and who weren’t expecting them back for another day.

    When notified, the Coast Guard first said it would send a cutter to bring back the men. Shortly after, Goodwin said, the Guard called back asking, “Would you be comfortable with a helicopter rescue?”

    Since it was a flat, calm day with lots of light, Goodwin answered “Sure.”  

    While waiting for the Coast Guard, the men showered and they received food and fresh clothes. Three hours later, with the cutter standing off to the side, the helicopter pilot and the Linda Moran carefully maneuvered so that the wind was in the direction needed to safely lift the fishermen from the barge.

    A rescue swimmer was sent down from the chopper to slice the raft open and deflate it, then check the fishermen to make sure they were alright. With that established, the chopper sent down a basket and first one and then the other fisherman were hoisted up into the hovering helicopter, Goodwin said. The helicopter and cutter took the men to Pensacola, Florida.

    From the time the flare was spotted, it was only about 20 minutes until the fishermen were safely aboard the Linda Moran. And once the Coast Guard arrived, it took about 10 minutes to lift the men from the deck of the barge into the hovering chopper.

    According to Goodwin, the Coast Guard said everything went as smoothly as it could have.

    “It was a once in a lifetime experience and we had a great outcome,” Goodwin said.

    Hailed as a hero by the men who were rescued, Goodwin said he did not act alone and the crew of the tugboat gets all the credit. “Merchant mariners are obligated to help someone in the middle of the ocean,” Goodwin explained. “We acted as professionals.”

    Asked if he had any advice for those who spend time at sea, he said, “Keep your eyes open and look at your surroundings. This was just a normal hitch and we ended up saving two people and sending them home to their families.”

    Goodwin is a 2006 graduate of Maine Maritime Academy and has been a resident of East Boothbay since 2011. He and wife Emily have two sons, David, 9, and Dylan, 5. Goodwin has worked for Moran Towing since June.

    Goodwin explained, articulated pusher tugs are seagoing tugboats that, with pins, can connect to barges; the tug can then push the barge ahead of it to its destination. The Linda Moran tugboat is 120 feet long and pushes a barge 425 feet long. 

    The video is courtesy of Goodwin.