SAINT JOHN, New Brunswick — David Welch spent Tuesday morning with his hands in Passamaquoddy Bay, fixing the damage to his 25-foot Zodiac incurred in a race to save the lives of a neighbor and his two small children.
“I broke a propeller during the rescue and working in the water today it’s cold, bloody cold,” said the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary trained captain who guides a whale-watching tour near St. Andrews.
“They were 45 minutes in that water with the young kids up on the overturned hull,” Welch said
On Canada’s Thanksgiving Day, Welch arrived moments after a search and rescue unit from the U.S. Coast Guard pulled 35-year-old Warren Bryan and his children, a daughter, 6, and son, 4, from the 55-degree waters.
With the two kids bundled in blankets and Bryan in a U.S. Coast Guard survival suit, Welch took the three into his vessel, away from their capsized sailboat and back to shore.
“It’s a big testament to Warren that he was able to keep it together,” Welch said. “I think he saw his family’s life flashing before his eyes.
“He told me that he thought he was going to lose his family.”
When called for comment, Bryan said it was still too early to recall the traumatic event.
“I’m still quite shaken up by the whole event,” Bryan said.
Welch was on the way to shore after leading a whale watching tour when he received the mayday call.
He quickly rushed the 13 people he had on board to shore in St. Andrews.
“I then immediately picked up a crew member and we headed straight for the search area,” Welch said. “They hadn’t been found at that point.”
Welch said the wind was blowing at more than 15 knots with rough waters in the bay.
“There were whitecaps when I headed back out,” Welch said. “But when Warren headed out he would have been in protected waters with very little wind.
“When he got out there the wind came up.”
The boat was turtled, completely upside down, when Welch arrived.
“He got into a situation where he tried to get back but the wind overtook him,” Welch said. “Once it goes over and you have two small kids in it, they’re in the water and you’re no longer worried about the boat, you’re worried about the kids.”
Welch described Bryan as “water savvy,” a former sea kayak tour guide who comes from a family of area boat builders.
Warren and his children were wearing life jackets.
Both the Canadian and U.S. Coast Guard were alerted by people on shore who saw the boat capsize.
The family members were found very cold but showed no signs of hypothermia.
Welch said the rescue highlights the strength of the partnership between the U.S. Coast Guard and the Canadian Coast Guard’s auxiliary members in localized areas.
“Myself, I am right on the scene half the time,” he said. “The whole system worked perfectly.”
Welch recalls the trip to Bryan’s own dock in Mascarene, which is located on the eastern side of Passamaquoddy Bay across from St. Andrews.
“He seemed very humbled by the situation,” Welch said. “Their spirits were good; no one was saying a lot, the kids looked quite shellshocked.”