Out of Gloucester


Tuesday, October 2, 1962

Dragger Lost; 3 Men Missing
Single Survivor Tells of Harrowing Hours

An intensive air-sea search of the waters off Cape cod was underway today for the three Gloucester fishermen missing after an engine room explosion early yesterday split and sank their 60-foot whiting dragger, St. Stephen.

Coast Guard planes and ships are scanning hundreds of square miles of ocean off Cape Cod for a trace of the three men.

Only one crewman has been rescued after a grim 13 hours clinging to a broken dory in the cold water. His name is Robert E. Hardy. Hardy was the ship's cook. He is 34 years old, married, with six children. The missing are:

Capt. Joseph P. Parisi, Jr., 27, of Gloucester, owner-skipper, married, three children
Charles J. Mason, 29, of Gloucester, married
Lee Hudgins, 52, of Matthews County, VA

Two helicopters and an amphibian aircraft took off from the Coast Guard Aviation station, at Winter Island, Salem, at 6:30 a.m. today. Surface craft searched through the night. In the flotilla was the 125 foot cutter Legare, from Fairhaven, an 82 footer from Provincetown, and four 40 foot picket boats from lifeboat stations at Chatham and Race Point. The Coast Guard will search at least until dark tonight, it was reported.

Hardy told a dramatic story of the harrowing day. He said it was the first trip for him and Mason aboard the 73 year-old East Boothbay-built dragger. Mason planned to sign on the Delaware, the government-research craft out of Gloucester after one trip on the St. Stephen.

Capt. Parisi had asked the two to fill out the crew. Hardy was ashore while his own boat, the New Bedford dragger Growler, had a new engine installed.

The trip was plagued with troubles. The St. Stephen left Gloucester early Sunday morning. Her engine failed during the day, and Capt. Parisi asked Coast Guard assistance, only to cancel the call later in the day when he got the engine going again. then the main drag wire parted on the net and the vessel lay throughout the night.

She resumed fishing Monday morning at daybreak when the damage was repaired.

Around 6:30 a.m. Hardy said a fire broke out in the engine room.. It was followed by an explosion which "blew the stern off the dragger." All four men succeeded in getting a hold of the broken dory about 6:30 a.m. yesterday, ten miles off Nauset light.

Within two minutes, Gloucester's oldest dragger slid beneath the waves. The rest of the story is better told in Hardy's words:

We left Gloucester about 9 o'clock Sunday morning. When we got on the fishing grounds, we set out and started fishing and made one set when something went wrong with the engine. She conked out Sunday afternoon and we called the Coast Guard at Race Point. We asked for assistance to be towed in because every time we started the engine, the battery threw out heavy sparks. Finally the skipper got the engine started and he called the Coast Guard and said he didn't need assistance.

We set out our nets again, hauled back and set again, until about 10 o'clock Sunday night, we hung up and parted the main wire and couldn't get her all back. So we let her lay there.

Around 6 o'clock Monday morning, the skipper went down and started the engine again, and he came up and we hauled back all right, so he said we'd better splice the wire.

He went back aft and looked down through the companionway and saw a fire in the engine room. He said we'd better get the skiff off the top of the pilot house and get life preservers.

Then she blew right up, blew the stern right off of her, blew the pilot house apart and blew the dory off it.

We weren't in the water two minutes when she (the dragger) was gone. We had to hang onto the broken dory. We hadn't had time even to get life preservers. She went down between 6:30 and 6:45 o'clock yesterday morning.

Other boats were fishing, but they were quite a ways from us. Nobody saw the four of us hanging onto that busted skiff. We tried to get in the dory and balance ourselves, but every time we did it capsized on us and it was bottom up.

Lee Hudgins was the first man to disappear. He couldn't hand onto the dory and he got away form us. We couldn't do anything. He grabbed hold of an empty gas tank but he drifted away form us. He kept hollering "I can't hold on any longer." It must have been an hour and a half later that we saw the gas tank floating and Lee was nowhere around.

There were three of us now hanging onto the skiff. We tried to get the dory right side up, and we succeeded, but every time we got into it, somehow we couldn't keep it right side up.

Then I noticed the skipper starting to get pretty tired. Both Charlie Mason and I told him to take it easy. But he started to shiver and get cold. We did what we could for him. Afterward he kept falling off and every time we brought him back. But we were getting exhausted too.

Finally we couldn't keep it up and he got away from us. We had to watch him drown, that's all. We were just too exhausted.

That left Charlie and I on the dory. It kept turning over. We just had to hang on. A big steamer came by, but couldn't see us. It would have been hard for them to see us. We just hollered, trying to get their attention but couldn't.

Our arms were getting tired. Our legs were doubled up on us. Charlie started to float away from the dory. Finally he was in shock and started talking about the others. I kept going after him and dragging him back.

Finally my arms gave out and I couldn't move them. Finally Charlie fell off. He got away from the dory. I couldn't go after him. I had to watch him drown. It must have been mid-afternoon. The sun was up pretty high.

I worked my arms and finally got my left hand to work. I laid on my side. I said to myself, the only thing I can do is to try to turn the dory right side up. The dory was full of water, but at least it would be something. I don't know how I did it but I rolled it over, and I sat in the middle of it. The water was up to my chest. I held onto the rails. I kept working my arms about. Boasts were fishing in the water but in another direction. They couldn't hear me. It was all right as long as it was daylight. I was cold, wet, hungry, exhausted.

When dark came, I started to get the shakes. I couldn't keep my eyes open. I was afraid I would tip the dory over. The Mother of Frances picked me up about 7:30 last night. I was dazed when I saw her light. I couldn't have held on much longer.

Then I could hear the engines real loud. By the grace of God, the skipper opened the pilot house window and stuck his head out. They stopped the engine and he heard me hollering. I heard him holler, "There's somebody in the water" and he shouted "Where are you?" I told him. Somebody said there's a dory full of water, and I kept hollering and they pulled the dory alongside and pulled me on deck.

[Robert Hardy was the only member of the crew who did not know how to swim.]


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