LUBEC, Maine — The U.S. Coast Guard on Wednesday afternoon recovered the body of one of three fishermen who were lost at sea when their boat Bottom Basher, a 34-foot commercial sea urchin dragger, broke apart and sank in the Johnson Bay section of Cobscook Bay.
The Bottom Basher was first reported overdue in Lubec about 10 p.m. Tuesday when family members called 911. The Maine Marine Patrol’s last contact with the boat was about 1 p.m. Tuesday, while area fishermen said they heard the boat on the radio around 3 p.m.
On the boat when it sank was owner Joseph Jones, 27, of Trescott, Darryl Cline of Machiasport and Norman Johnson of Cutler.
Coast Guard spokesman James Rhodes by Wednesday evening had not revealed the identity of the man whose body was recovered. The body was taken to Eastport.
Fisherman Kenny Daye of Lubec, who was dragging for urchins in the bay Wednesday, said Jones did not hold a pilot’s license and Cline was likely at the helm.
“Jones just bought that boat,” Daye said. “He was such a nice kid, a family man. He worked hard.”
People in the Lubec area, where many make their living from the sea, were reeling as word of the tragedy spread Wednesday.
“We not only know the young men involved,” said one local woman who did not want her name used, “but we know their parents and grandparents. There aren’t a lot of people living up here. We all know each other. We are all connected.”
She said that every time there is a tragedy at sea, area residents relive drownings of the past.
“They haunt us,” she said.
Philip Avery, a local urchin buyer, knew all three men on the boat.
“Joseph was a very, very good person. He was soft-spoken and good-natured. Daryl was one of our best scallopers,” Avery said.
“Every time one of these guys goes out on the water, they are taking their lives in their hands,” he said. “We all know it.”
The mood on the Lubec dock was somber Wednesday afternoon as the urchin fishermen began coming ashore with their day’s catch.
John Phinney, an urchin buyer from Trescott, had planned a fall hunting trip with Jones and knew the other two as well.
“Joseph was just such a great kid,” he said. “This is so tragic.”
The Cobscook Bay area is no stranger to losses at sea. In the past 11 months, counting Tuesday’s victims, six area men have died in the waters off Lubec.
On Dec. 2, 2008, Kristopher Fergerson, 27, accidentally drowned while harvesting periwinkles at Lubec, when the tide rose and cut off his access to shore.
In April 2009, the fishing vessel All American sank near where Tuesday’s tragedy occurred, and Logan Preston, 19, of Roque Bluffs and the ship’s captain, Loren Lank, 53, both drowned. Lank’s body was found the day of the sinking, but Preston’s body has yet to be recovered.
“Six in a year,” Daye said. “It’s just not right.”
Avery said he knew something was terribly wrong when he heard the rescue helicopter about 4 a.m.
“Helicopters don’t fly over Lubec unless someone is in trouble,” he said.
The Coast Guard launched the search for the men late Tuesday and continued to broadcast a marine bulletin throughout the night and day.
An HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter arrived from Cape Cod, Mass., at 11:45 p.m. and searched throughout the night.
A large debris field was found early Wednesday, and then the bow of the boat bobbed to the surface and identification of the vessel was made.
Life jackets marked with the vessel’s name also were found, according to the Coast Guard.
Daye said that local fishermen, many of whom helped in the search, were chatting quietly on the radio throughout the day and noticed parts of the boat’s wheelhouse and deck visible in the debris field and oil slick.
The Maine Marine Patrol activated two search vessels, and the Maine State Police assisted with a shore search.
Because the sinking was so close to the Canadian border, the Rescue Coordination Center in Halifax, Nova Scotia, was also engaged as well as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and a Canadian Defense Force helicopter.
“We are continuing to leverage resources from both sides of the border to search for the missing crew members,” Captain James McPherson, commander of Coast Guard Sector Northern New England out of Portland, said Wednesday afternoon. “Our thoughts are with the families of the crew of the Bottom Basher as they cope with this traumatic event. We plan to continue the search and are doing everything we can to find their loved ones.”
Avery explained that a dragger’s net can suddenly be caught up on a rock or obstruction on the sea bottom. It happened to him, he said, when a boat he was working on was on its last run of the day.
“Within five seconds I was standing on the side of the boat and the boat itself was standing on its side,” he recalled. “I knew that the two other men on the boat couldn’t swim.”
Avery said the captain managed to crawl to the throttle and shut down the engine which allowed the boat to right itself. “But it was five seconds — five seconds from standing there talking to thinking I was going to have to swim for my life.”
McPherson said that in addition to the search effort, the Coast Guard will conduct an investigation into what caused the vessel to sink. McPherson said the 140-foot Coast Guard cutter Thunder Bay was to search throughout Wednesday night.