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Coast Guard rescues boat disabled by rogue wave

By PAT ARNEY Staff Writer, (609) 272-7204, E-Mail/Press of Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY - Capt. Billy Pardue and a crew of six were fishing for sea scallops in the Hudson Canyon area of the Atlantic Ocean, about 60 miles off Cape May, when Tuesday's storm hit about 3 p.m.

They knew the weather was supposed to get bad and already had hauled all their fishing gear back into the 78-foot Mar Cin, a commercial vessel out of Hampton, Va.

The vessel had been "jogging" - moving slowly and steadily between or into waves, sometimes stern first, sometimes bow first - for four or five hours when a rogue wave slammed into the wheelhouse about 8 p.m., First Mate Kevin Smith, 42, and crew member Lewis Kellum, 43, said.

They, Pardue and other crew members, talked about the ordeal in the safety of a coffee room on the docks at Gardner's Basin here Wednesday evening.

"Everybody was asleep but me," recalled Pardue, 49, who was piloting the boat. "I went up one wave and down another and there it was, waiting for me.

"A 20-some foot wave dumped in my lap. Next I knew I was swamped. I just started screaming at the top of my lungs for everybody to put on their survival suits."

There was no time to get scared, they said. It happened too fast.

The wave shattered six of the nine windows in the wheelhouse and knocked out the vessel's lights, marine radio, global positioning system and steering. It left the boat floundering in 10- to 20-foot seas with northwest winds of about 50 knots.

Pardue said he got off one radio call to another commercial fishing vessel in the area - the Christina Ann out of Oriental, N.C. - before the radio went dead. That vessel notified the U.S. Coast Guard, which dispatched a rescue helicopter from Air Station Atlantic City.

Crew members of the rescue helicopter braved winds with gusts of up to 61 mph and 30-foot sea swells to lower a marine radio to the Mar Cin, so the crew could communicate with the Coast Guard and other vessels, the Coast Guard said.

Mar Cin crew members, although not in fear for their lives all night, said they were plenty worried how they were going to steer the vessel until Pardue went into the engine room and got the hydraulic system working again while First Mate Smith steered for shore lights.

The Coast Guard helicopter hovered around the vessel until Wednesday morning, when two 47-foot rescue boats from Coast Guard Station Barnegat Light arrived on scene and began to escort the Mar Cin back toward land. Shamrock Towing was called to finish towing the boat into Atlantic City, the Coast Guard said.

No one was injured, Pardue said. The crew expected the boat's owner, Mark Shackelford, to arrive by car from Virginia to assess the damage Wednesday night.

Pardue said he didn't think Shackelford realized just how badly the wheelhouse - the guts of the boat - was damaged. And the Coast Guard already had told them the boat couldn't leave until it's repaired.

The wheelhouse looked like an igloo. The foamy white wave water was frozen solid to it.

Most of the crew seemed to be looking forward to a hot bath. "I've been freezing all night," Smith said.

Of the seven-man crew, four are from Gloucester, Va. - Pardue, Smith, Kellum and Terry West, 37. The other three, all from Viriginia, are Joseph Ackles, 50, of Saluda; and Cakou Sylla, 35, and Rico Singleton, both of Hampton.

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I saw footage on the news as well, the damage that wave did was amazing. I've got to believe the roof of that wheelhouse was relatively strong, and it was mangled. I'm sure that image will come to mind the next time I'm off shore and it gets nasty. Could have been a lot worse, good thing they got a radio call out. Gotta give respect to the guys that work in those conditions.
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