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Old 05-19-2005, 05:43 AM
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Cape Fishing Crew Survives Boat Fire and Sinking

A Port of Cape May fishing crew was happy to see a familiar sight on Friday afternoon. Miles from home, with their boat on fire, another Cape May boat came to the rescue.

By Richard Degener



CAPE MAY — Tom McNulty Jr. woke to the sound of several people yelling “fire.”

It’s not something you want to wake up to on land. It’s really something you don’t want to hear on a wooden boat 45 miles from the nearest land.

There’s no place to run to escape. So McNulty, with bare feet and still in his underwear, did the next best thing on Friday afternoon. He ran to the fire to try and put it out.

“I ran down to the engine room and shot off a couple fire extinguishers, and then the smoke got to me,” said McNulty, speaking from his Middle Township home on Monday afternoon.

The Port of Cape May boat Eva Joy was fishing for scallops 126 miles from home, 45 miles southeast of Fire Island, N.Y., when the engine room ignited. It was probably caused by an electrical problem.

McNulty, who at just 23 is captain of the vessel owned by his father, Tom McNulty Sr., also of Middle Township, could not put it out.

The crew closed the hatches hoping to starve the fire of oxygen. It didn’t work. McNulty emptied the last of six fire extinguishers in the wheelhouse when smoke started pouring out of the console. He knew it was too late even before that.

“I went to the wheelhouse to get some personal belongings, my wallet and watch,” McNulty said. “I went through all the fire extinguishers and then I was helpless.”

While McNulty slept first mate Dave Wilburn, known as “Papa Smurf” on the boat since at 52 he is much older than the rest of the crew, was in charge. The 65-foot vessel, a wooden shrimp boat coated with fiberglass and converted to the lucrative scallop fishery, was on the third day of a seven-day trip. The fishing had been very good. The crew had to stop fishing several times just to process the catch, which isn’t usually the way scallop fishing works. Usually the scallops can all be shucked while the boat is dredging the bottom for the next haul.

McNulty had finished his shift and gone to bed. Tired from hard work, and oddly comforted by the roll of the boat, you get a deep sleep when working at sea. But somehow the mind is also subconsciously tuned to familiar sounds, like the whir of the engine, and anything out of place can quickly end that sleep.

McNulty was thinking on his feet right away. He knew the fire could take out the radio so right away a Mayday was broadcast. Fortunately, another Port of Cape May boat was fishing nearby. The Abracadabra, a boat owed by Jimmy Harris Sr., and captained by his son Jimmy Harris Jr., heard the call for help just before the radio went out.

“We did the Mayday and lost our radio. They heard us and started steaming to us right away,” said Wilburn.

The crew began donning survival suits not sure when help would arrive. Besides McNulty and Wilburn, who lives in West Cape May, the crew also included: Kenny Wilburn, 23, of Del Haven, Dave’s son; brothers Tom Matthews, 23, and Joey Matthews, 25, of Dias Creek. Also on board was Brook Doughtie, 23, a National Marine Fisheries Service observer there as part of a federal program to monitor the operation.

“He wasn’t very happy,” Wilburn noted.

Nobody was very happy about not seeing the U.S. Coast Guard, which had received word of the fire at 4 p.m., about 30 minutes after it started, but had not arrived when the first of several commercial fishing boats got there. McNulty said at least five fishing boats arrived but there might have a couple more in the distance. Three boats were poised to help when word went out to abandon ship, including Abracadabra, Virginia Reel and Generation All.

“It was cold, I’ll tell you that. It took a second to get used to,” McNulty said.

Some on the crew had been through this before. Dave Wilburn, a fourth generation fishermen, had gone overboard with just a life preserver three decades ago off Long Island when the converted sub chaser Robert E. Lee sank. McNulty was rescued by another fishing boat in 2003 when the clam boat he was working on, Four Daughters out of Atlantic City, sank.

Once in the water they decided to swim toward the Abracadabra, since it was a familiar boat to them. Winds were blowing about 10 to 15 knots out of the Northeast but it went pretty quickly, maybe five minutes in the water.

The hardest part for McNulty came next. For the next several hours he had to watch the Eva Joy burn to the water line and sink, which finally happened at about 10 p.m. McNulty said a single Coast Guard helicopter arrived about 90 minutes after they boarded the Abracadabra.

“He made two passes and turned and left,” McNulty said.

The Coast Guard response has angered McNulty and his father. They feel the Coast Guard could have arrived quicker and with more personnel, or possibly equipment to help put the fire out and save the boat or the scallop catch.

“It took the Coast Guard forever to get there and they flew around and then left,” McNulty Sr. said.

“The Coast Guard says they’re there to rescue you. This is my second time on a sinking boat where I was pulled out of the water by another fishing boat,” McNulty Jr. said.

The crew and the federal fishery observer are making statements to Coast Guard investigators. While the helicopter came from Group Air Station Atlantic City, the Coast Guard station in New York City was in charge of the incident. A spokesman there said no press release was issued for the incident because nobody had asked about it. He said they got the initial call at 4 p.m. and sent a H-65 helicopter from Atlantic City and a Falcon airplane from Cape Cod. They could not supply a time on when aircraft arrived on scene. McNulty said he never saw an airplane.

Coast Guard Petty Office 3rd Class Mike Lutz said by the time the Coast Guard got there all six were aboard the Abracadabra and none of them needed any medical attention. Lutz noted the very next day the Coast Guard airlifted a crewman off the Virginia Reel who needed immediate medical attention.

Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class John Edwards, of Atlantic City, said the Coast Guard doesn’t put out fires. Edwards said its job is to rescue people

“The Coast Guard responds to situations like this all over the country many, many times. This isn’t new to us and we’re very good at it,” Edwards said.

Wilburn is happy his fellow fishermen were there to help. It could have been his time, but he was glad it wasn’t everybody else’s.

“I’m Papa Smurf. I was just concerned for the younger boys,” Wilburn said.

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Old 05-19-2005, 10:53 AM
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Jr did good,he must have learned it from his Dad! It's good that you guys have that back up out there when when things are going down the toilet quick.Glad everyone is safe!Just wish that they didnt bash the Coasties the way they did.They do the best they can.A Falcon is a jet that would probably be flying at a high altitude,used for locating a general area where something is happenening,and chopper is sent to follow up on their findings.After seeing everyone was safe,they left.And firefighting is not the primary mission of the CG,saving lives is,though if they get there and there is fire,they will try to fight it.I'm kinda glad my son is thinking of getting out of the CG.I'm tired of him putting his a$$ on the line for people that dont respect what the sea can do,mainly recreational boaters that dont have a clue,but also some comms that think the CG is the cure for everything.
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Old 05-24-2005, 08:28 AM
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RAG,,,,don't get mad but I'm going to call it like i see it......I WAS THERE,,, and in this case i feel the coast guard did a POOR JOB..first off,,, HATS OFF to HOCUS POCUS JUNIOR ,and his crew...they were close by and didn't think twice about stopping their fishing to GO AND HELP...thats an unwritten law of the water..any captain on any commercial boat wont think twice in any case like that,,,,someones in trouble,,,your boat just turned into a rescue boat. i also feel that that boat could of been saved, .. i was about 4 or 5 miles from it and never went over because the crew was already safely on HOCUS'S BOAT and they were just watching it slowly sink,,,but in not trying to save it we now have thousands of gallons of diesel fuel floating around the water...what PI##ED ME OFF MORE THAN ANYTHING was the coast guard helicopter was RIGHT THERE,,, but they wouldn't drop the basket to get the 6 men off juniors boat...that was total BULL##IT... the coast guard made junior steam them men in all the way to the dock...TOTAL BULL. so in doing so,, now junior has to end his trip in doing it...it would of took the helicopter 10 minutes,,,,but it took junior 20 hours by boat,,, and now they just broke the momentum of their trip.....I HAVE LOW RATINGS FOR THE COASTGUARD ON THIS EVENT!!!!!!
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Old 05-24-2005, 08:57 AM
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I have to agree with those who feel the US. Coast Guard should have responded better than they did.
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Old 05-24-2005, 10:06 AM
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Horse$hit

The coasties are not a salvage operation.

Those guys should be happy they are alive.

More commie greed:

"The Coast Guard response has angered McNulty and his father. They feel the Coast Guard could have arrived quicker and with more personnel, or possibly equipment to help put the fire out and save the boat or the scallop catch."

Save the SCALLOP CATCH!!!! Greedy Pirates!!
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Old 05-24-2005, 10:14 AM
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<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-title">quote:</div><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-content">Originally posted by River Rat:
Horse$hit

The coasties are not a salvage operation.

: </div></BLOCKQUOTE>YOUR RIGHT,,, the c.g is not a salvage operation,,,but its their job TO TRY AND PREVENT ANOTHER ENVIRONMENTAL DISSASTER..i wonder how many gallons of diesel fuel was in them tanks??? that was a smaller boat,,but i bet there was at least 5000 gallons or more....and who ever said that the commercial fleet should be used as A TAXI DRIVER??????
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Old 05-24-2005, 10:17 AM
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i bet if it was a fancy yacht,,,with some women on it,,,,, THEY WOULD OF DROPPED THAT BASKET
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Old 05-24-2005, 02:34 PM
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Bent,
Was it one of the orange choppers? If so,the most they could carry at max is 4 people.Did Hocus Jr ask if there was a cutter nearby that could transport the people back to shore? If one was available and he requested it,I think one would have been sent.Believe it or not,the 41 and 47 foot surf boats have a limited range,and I think 45 miles off would be stretching it for the 47.As far as envioronmental impact,if the tanks are sealed,and comply with the standards,I dont think there would be much leakage after sinking.Hell,the USS Arizona is still leaking bunker crude 60 plus years after being sunk,and Hawaii hasnt turned into an eviornmental hazard.The crew was safe,the boat sank,the catch was lost.It happens all the time.But nobody died,and thats the main purpose of the Coast Guard.Ask the crew if they would have prefered to wait for the CG to make it to them,or have the Abracadbra pick them up.I think you know what the answer would be.
Again,kudos to Hocus Jr,he did a great job,and I'm sure he was happy with the results,even if he lost some fishing time.
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Old 05-24-2005, 08:04 PM
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I've been trying to stay out of this little debate but I can't hold my tongue any longer.
I think the CG did what they were suppose to do.
The men from the Eva Joy was safe and that's all that matters. The CG aren't your neighbor hood volunteer fire company. Do they make mistakes? yep just like the rest of us but I don't think they made any here. As far as Jr. losing fishing time, so what. What's more important, 6 lives or a few lousy scallops.
Ask Jr. what he thinks of the CG, I think he would praise them up & down after they air lifted him off of my boat when he was 13 years old.
There are a few things in life you need to respect and River Rat isn't one of them but the sea and the CG are a couple of them.
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Old 05-25-2005, 09:10 AM
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<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-title">quote:</div><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-content">Originally posted by HocusPocus:
There are a few things in life you need to respect and River Rat isn't one of them but the sea and the CG are a couple of them. </div></BLOCKQUOTE>


THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!!!
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Old 05-25-2005, 10:21 AM
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HocusPocus,
You said what I wanted to say better than I could With my son in the CG,and hearing some of the stories he tells me,I get a little pi$$ed at those that think the CG doesnt do thier job.(Yes,you Bentrod)Their primary mission is to save lives,not property.If everyone is is safe,it is up to the boat owner to take care of salvage and recovery.Fire 45 miles out to sea? You can bet that boat is going to sink,along with the catch.Such is life,the crew was safe,thanks to JR,and those that asssisted.
Hocus,
Hows semi retierment going? Hope you are enjoying it!Met Hocus Jr at the Bash,and he is a fine man.And with he what he did during this situation,you have a son that you can be very proud of.
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Old 05-26-2005, 09:31 AM
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<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-title">quote:</div><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-content">Originally posted by ragman:
I get a little pi$$ed at those that think the CG doesnt do thier job.(Yes,you Bentrod): </div></BLOCKQUOTE>I AM ALLOWED to have my opinion...this is how I FEEL,,, and is entitled to it.....saving the boat was up to the crew of the EVA JOY,,,,and i really don't think they tried that hard....saving the catch is a ridiculous statement,,,,, THEY ONLY HAD 80 BAGS,,,,,and if they wanted to save the catch,,,they should of worked harder to save the boat....but i will reiterate again,,,,,WHAT BOTHERED ME more than anything,. was that the c.g made junior steam the crew to the dock...i STRONGLY FEEL that the c.g should of dropped that basket, or sent a small boat out....how about if something like this happens out in area 1 of the closed areas this summer,,,the c.g is going to make boats steam 2 and half days....RAG THATS ALL I'M GOING TO SAY on this,,,,,,,,remember, i was there,,,,THATS MY OPINION
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Old 05-26-2005, 10:09 AM
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Questions???

Is there some risk in picking up folks in one of those baskets? What if someone was injured or killed?

Why did Jr have to steam back in? Couldent the rescued crew stay on board until his trip was finished?

Once the crew was rescued was the CG responsible to run a boat out there to ferry them back to port?

I'm not trying to stir the pot here just asking cause I really dont know the answers.

From my perspective as long as everyone involved made it home alive there aint too much to compolain about.
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Old 05-26-2005, 10:46 AM
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<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-title">quote:</div><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-content">Originally posted by River Rat:
Once the crew was rescued was the CG responsible to run a boat out there to ferry them back to port?

. </div></BLOCKQUOTE>THIS IS WHAT I WANT to know too. who's responsibility was it to get the men back to port
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Old 05-26-2005, 01:55 PM
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WOW, you guys are something, Who responsibility is it to bring them back to port, Who the he11 cares, There alive and THANK GOD and HPjr for being there. There was a happy ending to this tragedy, let it be an ending..
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