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Night in an Open Boat


January 1925

Signals of Distress After Engine Had Broke Down
Failed to Bring Aid to Rockport Fisherman
Until Morning

To spend 24 hours in an open 25-foot long boat, within sight of the Coast Guard station, yet not having his distress signals seen, or his plight discovered by the many boats searching for him, was the unpleasant experience Oker Peterson, a fisherman of Rockport, went through yesterday and last night.

Peterson left his home to go fishing at 6 o'clock yesterday morning, telling his wife he would be back in about two hours.  When he sought to start to return his engine would not respond to this cranking and he anchored on 16 fathom shoal, a scant two and one half miles from the coast guard station, which at all times was within view of him.  Peterson, working on his engine, felt no alarm because he reasoned it was impossible for him to remain there very long without being discovered.

Meanwhile, becoming alarmed at the man's absence, Sylvester Hanson, owner of the boat, called the Rockport Coast Guard.  Officer-in-charge George A. Josephs, ordered out his crew to search.  But they found no trace of Peterson.   Out on the fishing spot, rocked gently in a ground swell heaving with the southwest wind, Peterson rigged a distress signal of an oar and oil jacket and waved it frantically to attract the attention of the watch in the coast guard tower, but without success.

Then darkness came on.  Peterson placed the oars in the oarlocks and went through all of the motions of rowing a boat.  This he kept up practically all night to keep him warm.

Mr. Hanson, owner of the boat, this morning said that he notified the coast guard at noon and claims it was 2.45 o'clock before they went out.   The coast guard station says they received the report at 1 o'clock, immediately went out and came back at 10 o'clock at night.  The life boat developed engine trouble, due to the non-circulating of water through the engine, and she was useless.

The coast guard said that their view of the water from the watch tower is obstructed by buildings, and that the spot where Peterson was supposed to be was in a direct line with the station, with the Straitsmouth hotel between then and the shoals, making it impossible to see the boat, although they cruised around that sop at different times, they failed to see the boat.

Early last evening a call was sent to the local coast guard and also to the Cutter Tampa, and these reinforcements swept back and forth around the coast, but without finding signs of the missing man.

At daybreak this morning, Hanson ordered his other fishing boats out, and the sloop Sylvester, after poking her nose out of Rockport harbor, sighted the crippled power boat, her distress signals still up, and bore on Peterson and his craft.  The man was taken on board, given warm drink and conveyed to his home, suffering but little from the effects of his night in the open.

The Rockport coast guard officials said this morning, that they are compelled to keep their boat a mile from the station, and burdened down by heavy clothing, it takes more that a half hour to walk that distance to get the boat out.

Since the station was erected at Rockport, residences have been erected on three sided of the building and in the opinion of the crew, its use as a lookout for distressed shipping is practically useless for from the tower, except in one direction, it is at most impossible to see any of the water line at all.

The crew are always ready to respond to the aid of any distressed seaman or ship, but could not understand how a man could be in the spot Peterson claimed to have been and not one of the many ships able to find him.


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