WESTERLY — The Watch Hill Fire Department dispatched its Marine 101 boat shortly after 10 a.m. on Saturday in response to a distress call from a large powerboat, and managed to find it 17 minutes later despite dense fog and a failure of radio communications, the department reported.
In a press release, Watch Hill Fire Chief Robert Peacock said the call, relayed from the U.S. Coast Guard by the Westerly Regional Dispatch Center, reported that the vessel, a 40-foot Larson powerboat named Hydro Therapy, was in distress and taking on water off Watch Hill Point. Three Watch Hill firefighters set out in their 25-foot response boat within 4 minutes. The Westerly Ambulance Corps and an officer from the Westerly Police Department were also dispatched to assist.
The Marine 101 crew communicated en route with the Coast Guard and several good Samaritan vessels that were in the area and trying to locate and assist the sinking vessel.
"Thick dense fog hampered the response efforts and the rescue boats relied on navigational equipment and radar to respond and locate the vessel," the department said. The vessel, from Mystic, had been returning from Long Island, and the operator had told the Coast Guard that the engine room was filling with water and the electronics were failing.
The boater also said that he and his passengers had their life jackets on and were going to board their dinghy raft for safety until assistance arrived. Radio communications with the vessel failed shortly after the location was provided by the operator, the department said.
Within 17 minutes, the fire department crew found the vessel, about 2 miles off Watch Hill Point on the east side of Watch Hill reef in Block Island Sound. Response vessels from Tow Boat US, Sea Tow, and the New York State Department of Conservation also responded to the area to assist. The U.S. Coast Guard's 45-foot response vessel from New London also responded but was delayed because of the fog, heavy boat traffic, and the extended travel distance.
Firefighters confirmed that the occupants had not been injured and were helping the salvage companies dewater and stabilize the vessel, which was towed to Mystic Shipyard. Marine 101 was released by the Coast Guard after providing a safety zone around the incident in the heavy fog for about 35 minutes while salvage operations occurred.
Peacock said that the experience and training of the occupants made a clear difference in the situation, as the operator clearly communicated the boat's problem and position to the Coast Guard, and he and his passengers donned their flotation devices and evacuated the vessel.
"The response of several good Samaritan boats in the area also played a significant part in the safe and successful outcome of this incident," Peacock said in the press release, adding that the department's boat returned to its dock at about 11:30 a.m.