Rockland survivor of fishing boat sinking says father-in-law saved his life

Posted Oct. 28, 2013, at 11:46 a.m.
Last modified Oct. 28, 2013, at 8:44 p.m.
David Oakes (left) with his son-in-law Jason Randall.
Courtesy of Jason Randall
David Oakes (left) with his son-in-law Jason Randall.

ROCKPORT, Mass. — A Rockland fisherman credits his father-in-law with saving his life when the commercial fishing vessel the two were on sank three miles off the coast of Rockport, Mass., on Friday night.

David Oakes, 46, of South Thomaston died, Knox County Sheriff Donna Dennison confirmed Monday.

Later on Monday, Oakes’ son-in-law Jason Randall credited his father-in-law with saving his life.

Randall said Oakes had asked him to help bring back the 65-foot Terra Nova from Gloucester, Mass., where it had undergone repairs for the past three weeks. The work on the boat had been completed Thursday morning and Oakes and Randall had left Gloucester on Friday to bring the Terra Nova to Maine.

While they were steaming off Massachusetts, they noticed water pouring into the boat, according to Randall. He said Oakes immediately radioed the Coast Guard and asked whether they could fly out some pumps to help get rid of the water. The Coast Guard reported that the first distress call from the Terra Nova came in between 8:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. Friday.

“While David was on the radio, I went back down to the cabin and saw that a few more feet of water had come in just since he had been talking to the Coast Guard,” Randall said.

Randall said he ran to the pilot house and told Oakes, who notified the Coast Guard of the situation. Oakes then told Randall to put on a survival suit and Oakes donned one as well.

Randall said that as he was trying to get off the boat while it was sinking, he slipped and his father-in-law grabbed him and pushed him over the side to get clear of the vessel.

“That was the last time I saw him. His last act was to save my life,” Randall said.

The Rockland man said he was in the water for about two hours. The seas were about 4-6 feet and it was dark as he bobbed in the ocean.

“A lot of things went through my mind. I didn’t know if this was the end,” Randall said.

He saw a helicopter fly over him and surmised they had located Oakes.

Shortly after, Randall was pulled out of the water by Rockport, Mass., Harbor Master Scott Story. The harbor master brought Randall to shore at the Coast Guard facility and he was then taken by ambulance to Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester, Mass.

“The first thing I said when he pulled me aboard was to ask about Dave. I was told he was being taken to the hospital but they did not tell me his condition,” Randall said.

Randall was treated and released from the hospital Friday night. The son-in-law said he has not been told what caused Oakes’ death.

According to the Coast Guard, a Jayhawk helicopter from its air station in Cape Cod had located the two men in the water and relayed their position to a 47-foot Coast Guard vessel from Gloucester which picked up one of the crewmembers at about 10:30 p.m. Though the Coast Guard would not confirm that it was Oakes, a press release indicated that man was then hoisted into the helicopter and flown to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Also responding to the call for help were harbor masters from Rockport, Mass., members of the Massachusetts State Police, and local fishermen.

“A lot of teamwork and moving parts go into a case like this,” according to the news release from Lt. Joe Klinker from the Coast Guard’s public affairs office in Boston.

The Terra Nova is a wooden boat built in 1965 at the former Newbert & Wallace boatyard in Thomaston, Maine, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website on vessel documentation. The name of the owner was not immediately available but the NOAA website stated that in November 2012 it was owned by a Richard Merrill of South Wellfleet, Mass.

Provincetown, Mass., Harbor Master Rex McKinsey said Monday that the vessel was in poor condition when he examined it a couple of months ago. He said it was an old, wooden boat that had not had a lot of attention paid to it.

McKinsey said he recommended that the boat undergo significant repairs or be decommissioned. The vessel was then taken to a boatyard in Gloucester and he had not seen it since.

Randall said he had been told by Oakes that several planks had been replaced at the shipyard in Gloucester.

The vessel had last been rigged to be a hydraulic clamming vessel, McKinsey said. The vessel would shoot high pressure water into a shellfish bed and force the clams out of their holes and then a large rake from the vessel would catch the clams, he explained.

Randall said he was not sure what Oakes planned to do with the boat once it came to the Rockland, Maine, area.

This was the second boat sinking in which Oakes was involved. In November 2004, he was aboard the Canadian Mist when it sank 32 miles southeast of Nantucket, Mass. All four crew members survived by donning survival suits.

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