The area was just north of the center of a low-pressure system that dumped up to 2 feet of snow on Virginia's Blue Ridge mountains, though it brought only light accumulations and rain in the Baltimore area.

The storm kept most mariners from venturing out and tore away chunks of the Maryland coastline.

"It sounded like a freight train and acted just like a nor'easter," said Mike Riley, Assateague State Park manager.

Coast Guard officials believe that the distress signal was sent automatically when a system detected sea water inside the Seafarer, which at 67 feet long and 88 tons was 5 feet shorter and four tons lighter than the Andrea Gail, the doomed fishing boat made famous in the book and movie "The Perfect Storm."

It was one of 10 vessels in a fleet owned by Lee Bland Williams or his company, Hobo Seafood Inc. of Scranton, N.C., according to federal fishing records. No one answered the phone at Hobo Seafood on Thursday.

After receiving the Seafarer's distress call, the Coast Guard dispatched an MH-60 Jayhawk from its air station in Elizabeth City, N.C., and a 47-foot Coast Guard motor boat from Chincoteague. The helicopter picked up Small at 1:42 p.m. The search for the Tates continued until about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

An early-morning search of the area that resumed the next day uncovered some pieces of debris believed to be from the Seafarer, as well as a 35-foot section of the ship's bow, Botzenhart said. But there was no sign of the men in the water or in the life raft that Small left behind. The search was called off at 1 p.m. Thursday.

"We have searched over 560 square nautical miles of the Atlantic Ocean off the eastern shore of Virginia," Botzenhart said. "It is with a great deal of sorrow that we have been unable to locate them at this point of time."

Small was taken to Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury for treatment of hypothermia and a head wound, the Coast Guard said. He was released Thursday.

Helicopter rescue crews off Maryland's shores typically come from Coast Guard air stations in either Elizabeth City, N.C., or Atlantic City, N.J. The New Jersey station is closer, but the North Carolina station's helicopter is better equipped for potentially icy precipitation and carries more fuel, allowing it to travel farther and remain on the scene longer, said Lt. Jenny Fields of the North Carolina station.

The helicopters are virtually the same as U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopters, at 65 feet long and 11 feet wide, Fields said.

Southward and Schoenberger said that after the Coast Guard delivered them safely to shore in Elizabeth City, Red Cross workers took over, offering medical treatment, dry clothes and lodging at a hotel.

"The support for us all around has been amazing," Schoenberger said.

The two were ordering steaks at a local restaurant as they recounted what Southward, a lifelong sailor, called a bruising ordeal and the first near-death experience of his life.

Late Wednesday afternoon, once they decided they couldn't save the ship, they made a mayday call, Southward said, then had to wait for the Coast Guard team to get to them.

"I can't put those two hours into words. There were a lot of prayers and 'I love you, mans,'" he said.

Schoenberger said they'd spent most of Thursday recounting the details of their journey, questioning every decision they made. "We're experienced, competent seamen, and we're satisfied we did the best we could with the information we had," he said. "The weather came on so fast."

As conditions worsened early Wednesday morning, he said, the pair decided their best bet was to try to make it to port at Cape Hatteras. The Coast Guard later told them that would be too hazardous, and at that point their only choice was to head for Morehead City, N.C., via Cape Lookout, a route they knew would take 12 hours through rapidly worsening conditions.

As they pressed on, the vessel heeled as much as 45 degrees, an angle that jeopardized the diesel engine. But trying to right the boat took them off course.

Amid 25-foot swells, they opted to call the Coast Guard to be rescued as the boat took on water, Southward said, and from that point on the Adante "became a lifeboat for us."