PORTLAND, Maine — Nick Masi III lost more than his boat and his best friend when his vessel capsized as they fished for bluefin tuna off the Maine coast. Shattered were his dreams of starting his own charter fishing boat business and getting his life on track four years after a construction accident left him paralyzed from the waist down.
More than a month after the freak boating accident, Masi, 45, said he is struggling as he deals with insurance companies, lawyers and hospitals. His 24-foot boat, the Job Site 2, is sitting in a boatyard as he figures out how to pay for refurbishing it.
Life has been tough for the Biddeford man since he suffered a spinal-cord injury while working on a building on July 27, 2007. He says he has lost his livelihood, his wife, his dignity. He still has a lawsuit pending against the crane company he says is responsible for knocking over the trusses that toppled on him and changed his life forever.
Things began looking up last spring when his grandmother loaned him the money so he could buy a used Grady White. He equipped it with a GPS, a plot charter, a fish finder and other electronics, survival gear, a block and tackle, and bluefin tuna fishing rods worth $1,800 each. He took friends out on pleasure fishing trips this summer, all the while having a long-term strategy of getting a captain’s license and starting a commercial charter boat business that caters to people in wheelchairs.
“I had just started to implement the plan,” Masi told The Associated Press. “For the first time in four years I had a smile on my face. I had a reason to get up and something to look forward to.”
That plan was knocked off course on Sept. 30, the day Masi and three friends fished five miles off Kennebunkport for bluefin tuna, one of the world’s largest and fastest fish, sometimes called the king of the sea.
Wind and seas kicked up that afternoon and the boat started taking on water before it swamped and flipped upside-down. They were rescued about half an hour later by a passing yacht that heard Masi’s mayday, followed shortly thereafter by a lobster boat and a Coast Guard vessel.
Masi had a life jacket on; his friends helped him stay afloat and pushed him over to the Good Samaritan vessel when it arrived, allowing him to be pulled aboard.
But Masi’s best friend, Doug Isenberg, didn’t survive the ordeal and was pronounced dead on shore. The Maine medical examiner’s office hasn’t ruled on the cause of death, pending further study.
When the boat went over, Masi lost his custom wheelchair and the medication that makes his chronic pain bearable.
His boat — or the shell of what was left of it — was towed back to shore. It will cost $40,000 or more to restore the vessel, but the insurance company is offering him only $11,500, Masi said.
Masi hasn’t given up on his dream of some day running his own charter business, but the setback has depressed him, said Daricus Hunter, of Biddeford, a good friend of Masi who was aboard the boat the day of the accident.
After the construction accident and his paralysis, Masi had finally found something he could have hope in, Hunter said.
“He was finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. This was something that truly made him happy,” said Hunter, of Biddeford. “When he was on the water, he didn’t have a care in the world.”
In the meantime, Masi has had more issues to deal with than just his boat.
It took him almost four days to replace his pain medication lost at sea, and he still hasn’t replaced the wheelchair he lost. He’s using a loaner in the meantime.
His lawsuit against the crane company lingers on. And he recently learned that after a nearly four-year battle with an insurance company and a hospital, he won’t get any funding to buy a special stationary bicycle equipped with electrodes that he says he needs to maintain and rebuild his muscle mass and lessen his pain.
He’s also trying to sell his house, which he says is of little use to him because he can’t use the basement or second story. His divorce became final the day before his boating accident.
Sometimes, he said, he feels like he just can’t win: “It’s hard enough being like me without having all these people pounding you on the head like that Whac-A-Mole game.”