Out of Gloucester


 

November 1977

2 Dead, 3 Rescued at Sea

Two Gloucester fishermen were lost at sea Friday night after the 83-foot dragger Sea Breeze sank off the coast of Maine.  Dead are LeRoy Amero, 69, of 13 1/2 Cleveland St. and Forrest Dare, 36, of 8 Fair St.

The skipper of the vessel, Wilton Mansfield, 62, of 18 School St., survived along with his 16-year-old stepson, Victor Simpson, and Russel Sherman, 29, of Rockport.  Mansfield and Simpson were rescued from a life raft in 10- to 15-foot seas two hours after the sinking.  Sherman was picked up early Saturday morning after being spotted clinging to an aluminum skiff. 

Dare was found dead in the vessel's life raft late Saturday morning.    Amero, who Sherman saw sink away from the skiff Friday night, has not been found.  Yesterday, Mansfield lay in bed at his home and recounted the totals of an ordeal that began late Friday afternoon.

"We'd taken on some water forward," he said.  "The drain pipes must have gotten plugged."  Unable to clear the pipes and fearing the already-high seas would worsen, Mansfield made radio contact with the Southwest Harbor, Maine, Coast Guard station.

"We asked for a pump," he said.  "They asked if we were in any immediate danger and I said no  -- negative -- but we were pulling in."  The position at the time was about 25 miles southwest of Mount Desert Rock, approximately 50 miles from the Coast Guard Station near Bar Harbor.  Mansfield then remembered an electric portable pump he had recently purchased and had installed in the engine room.

"We moved it without too much trouble and hooked it up and it worked perfect," he said.  Quickly, the water was cleared and the Coast Guard was alerted that there would be no need for the pump.  But the vessel continued on toward Southwest Harbor.

"A storm was supposed to be coming and we were going in to find a lee behind Baker Island to sit it out," Mansfield said.  "Then it hit.   Approximately a quarter of 7." he said.  "I heard a hard thump and a second or two later there was another thump right near the stern.  I still don't know what it was."

Scrambling down to the engine room to see what had happened, Mansfield found nothing but water.  "In the few short seconds it took to get there, the engine was half covered."  Up the ladder and into the house again, Mansfield called the Coast Guard.  "We're going to need help and need it quick," he remembers saying.  "Damn quick."   There was no time for more messages.  There wouldn't have been time to even take an accurate position, he said. He said he was lucky to have taken a reading earlier.  He knew they were now approximately 10 miles farther along.  He gave the Coast Guard the estimated position and abandoned ship.

The skipper, his stepson and Dare went into the self-inflating life raft.   "We didn't even have time to pull all stops to fill it," he said.   "We gave a kick and got overboard.   She was going quickly." Amero and Sherman untied the aluminum skiff from atop the wheelhouse and put out, too.  "Five minutes -- no more -- and she was gone." The 83-foot, 89-ton dragger was gone, sunk into the dark sea.  The five men in the raft and skiff began to drift helplessly in the 10- to 15-foot seas.

"We were upside down in ours," Mansfield said.   "We were sitting on the canopy.  It was wet and cold and all we could do was wait." Sherman and Amero, meanwhile, were struggling to keep the small skiff upright.  "Everyone was soaked and it was cold.  But all we could do is wait," he said.  An hour passed, the seas abated somewhat and the men in the life raft waited.  The skiff was no longer in sight.  Suddenly, at approximately 9 p.m., the lights of a helicopter appeared in the western sky.

"We flashed a flashlight, they signaled and then dropped a flare right near us," he said.  The rescue basket was lowered toward the raft and Mansfield and Simpson tried to rouse Dare, who was delirious and would not move.  "C'mon Forrest," Mansfield recalls urging.  "We're saved."  "I can't move.  I'm freezing to death," he said.  "We tried but we couldn't move him," he said.

Young Simpson then entered  the basked which was not hauled up immediately, causing the boy to be dunked several times in the rising waters and forcing him out of the basked back into the raft. The Coast Guardsmen above tried repeatedly to get the basket down to the raft in still-strong winds, but they couldn't do it.  "Then they tried a rope with weights on the end, but I never could get my hands on it," he said.  "Then they tried the basket again."  Mansfield went first this time, and was lifted to the safety of the helicopter.

"We tried to get Forrest in," he said.  "But he just said, 'I can't move,' and we couldn't move him the way the seas were and how we were flopping around."  Simpson followed his stepfather up to the helicopter and Mansfield hastily asked, "How's Forrest doing?"   "Forrest's gone," the boy said, adding that he had fallen out of the raft and disappeared into the sea.

The helicopter then descended almost to the surface in hopes of finding Dare.   "We were close, real close," Mansfield said.   "I felt one sea hit the helicopter."  A Coast Guardsman stood ready with a lifeline tied around his waist to leap in after Dare, but Dare could not be spotted and the helicopter sped towards the Brunswick Naval Air Station.   There Mansfield and Simpson were transferred to an ambulance and take to Brunswick Hospital for observation.  "They said they were going right back out to look again for the boys," Mansfield said.   "They kept us overnight.  We were okay and they let us go Saturday after lunch."

The search for the other crewmen continued through the night without success and continued into the morning.

At 7:50 a.m., the Coast Guard cutter Duane recovered the life raft and soon after found the skiff, where a groggy, wet but otherwise healthy Sherman had endured the night.  "Russell told me that Amero didn't last half an hour," said Mansfield.  He also informed the skipper that big waves had swamped and overturned the skiff five to six times during the night, but he had somehow managed to right it each time.  He, too, was taken to Brunswick Hospital for treatment and was released yesterday.  Around 11:20, Dare's body was found afloat about five miles from the spot where the Sea Breeze sank, and the search for Amero continued through yesterday before being abandoned last night. 

The ill-fated trip began Wednesday and was scheduled to continue through the weekend.  The vessel was built in Thomaston, Maine, in 1936 and was named the Whaling City, once the pride of New Bedford, before Mansfield purchased it.  "She was a good boat," Mansfield said.   "She just struck something and opened up," he added.  "She'd carry 90,000 and we had hardly 40,000 aboard, mostly redfish," he said.   "Its over now.  There's nothing that can be done." 

Looking back in the incident, Mansfield said, "While floating in the raft, I never thought that any of us would make it.  I asked myself how could they possibly rescue us out here under these conditions?  I didn't plan on being here."  He added, "That's some great organization, that Coast Guard."

 

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