In the early hours of a June morning, Coast Guard Cutter Block Island was underway off the coast of North Carolina rounding the historically perilous waters off Cape Hatteras, an area frequently referred to as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.”
The area, rich in maritime heritage, has one of the highest densities of shipwrecks in the world, so crewmembers aboard Block Island were on high alert.
Miles away, two sailors encountered the Graveyard of the Atlantic’s misfortune as their 49-foot sailboat began to sink. The flooding damaged the sailboat’s electrical system, which kept the engine from starting and preventing the use of the electronic auto-furl sails. The sailors lit a flare in a desperate call for help. As luck would have it, another sailboat was in the area and saw it.
It was 3 a.m. when news of the sinking sailboat came across Block Island’s radio. A rescue team jumped out of the rack and made preparations to get underway in a response boat. Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew Losinger, the boat’s coxswain, and his crewman, Petty Officer 3rd Class Anthony Iannizzaro, verified the boat was ready.
Knowing the boat was rapidly sinking, the remaining two members of the response team gathered the ship’s plugging and patching kit along with a portable pump.
“When I heard the alarm go off that morning I got right up and went straight to work,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Chuck Seckinger, another crewman. “The training we’ve done in the past as well as my prior experience as a small boat crewman kicked in as I gathered the equipment. I am responsible for maintaining our pumps, so I was totally confident that it would start on the first pull.”
With the boat ready, the crew transited through choppy seas and made their way aboard the sailboat. They found the sailors exhausted and anxious after struggling for several hours against the rising water.
“They were worn out from dewatering the vessel all day using buckets. Once we were aboard, their expressions dramatically changed from weary to relieved. They knew that everything would be fine,” recalled Seckinger.
The sailors were comforted by the arrival of the Coast Guard crew, but knew there was a lot to still worry about, not the least of which was the rising water still coming in to their sailboat.
Reacting quickly and resourcefully, Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin Mullinax and Seckinger set up the pump and began to control the flooding.
Losinger and Iannizzaro, who remained aboard the response boat, stayed close to the sailboat and kept a vigilant eye on the conditions – no easy task in the darkness and sea spray that surrounded them. It was their responsibility to keep watch over the sailboat and ensure they were ready to respond should the pump fail.
“Surprisingly, our biggest issue to deal with was the cold. The short and choppy seas had kicked up and we were soaking wet the entire time. But what other option was there? Those people needed us to stay on scene until they were safe,” said Iannizzaro.
It wasn’t until daybreak that a crew from Station Oregon Inlet arrived on scene with the sailboat and relieved the crew of Losinger, Mullinax, Seckinger and Iannizzaro. Altogether there were at sea for more than three hours as they upheld the Coast Guard’s tradition of rescuing mariners from the perils of the sea.
“It was very rewarding to assist these distressed mariners, particularly because when a vessel is taking on water it is such a time-sensitive case. Our entire crew did a fantastic job responding quickly in the middle of the night,” said Lt. Grant Thomas, the cutter’s commanding officer. “In addition to our rescue and assistance team, our deck-watch officer, Ensign Paul Junghans, performed admirably responding to the situation as radio watchstanders from Sector North Carolina were trying to locate the exact position of the vessel.”
“There is a tremendous amount of history, from the Life Saving Service, the Revenue Cutter Service and the Coast Guard which has taken place off Cape Hatteras,” added Thomas. “Our crew felt a great sense of accomplishment dewatering this vessel, getting control of the situation and standing by for Station Oregon Inlet to take them in tow before we proceeded on to Baltimore.”