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Rough Christmas Eve waters prompt two rescues from bay

Poor weather left two separate boaters stranded on the Chesapeake Bay early Christmas Eve morning, forcing local Coast Guard crews to perform holiday rescues.

Both men and three dogs were saved without injury by the same Coast Guard helicopter crew. One man was hoisted into the helicopter, while the other was pulled aboard a rescue boat with his three pets with the help of a swimmer dropped into the water from above.

"It was pretty rough," said Petty Officer David Marin, a Coast Guard spokesman, of the weather late Monday night and early Tuesday morning.

Amid intermittent rain storms and under a small-craft advisory from the National Weather Service, waves were cresting at 4 to 5 feet on the bay and wind gusts were reaching 35 knots, Marin said.

The air temperature stood at 43 degrees, the water temperature at 50 degrees. Visibility was limited to one nautical mile.

The first call came in at 10:30 p.m. Monday from the friend of a 39-year-old man who had left Edgewood in a 31-foot sailboat on Sunday and never showed up as expected in Dundalk, the Coast Guard said.

About an hour later, at 11:30 p.m., a "mayday" call came in from a second man, who said he had run his 59-foot sailboat aground near the Little Wicomico River, which meets the Chesapeake at the border between Maryland and Virginia waters.

The boat was about 300 yards from the shore and taking on water, the man told Coast Guard officials in Baltimore. He had three dogs aboard, he said.

The Coast Guard does not identify people it rescues after missions are completed, Marin said.

About 1 a.m. Christmas Eve, a Maryland State Police helicopter crew spotted flares from the second man's grounded boat and confirmed his location. While the state helicopter had hoisting capabilities, the crew did not attempt a rescue from the air because the boat "had three large masts and full sails deployed with rigging from its deck," state police said.

A Coast Guard helicopter crew from Atlantic City then responded, as did a 25-foot response boat from the Coast Guard station in St. Inigoes.

A rescue swimmer was lowered into the water from the helicopter and assisted the crew of the rescue boat, which was able to maneuver next to the sinking sailboat and bring the man and his three dogs on board, the Coast Guard said.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Kevin Ramirez, coxswain of the rescue boat, said the rescue was "one of the most challenging situations" he's experienced, due to poor conditions and closeness to a shoal.

The man and his dogs were taken to Smith Point Marina, where he refused medical treatment. The Coast Guard commended the man for his actions during the emergency.

"The man did an excellent job maintaining communications and providing situational updates," said Lt. Salomee Briggs, the command duty officer at the Coast Guard office in Baltimore, in a statement. "He used flares to signal the Maryland State Police helicopter, which allowed us to narrow in on his position and expedite the search and rescue case."

As Christmas Eve morning progressed, the Atlantic City helicopter crew continued to search the area for the missing boater who never showed up in Dundalk.

The man had told a friend Sunday night that he was having engine trouble. He had told family that he hadn't taken many supplies, or food.

Eventually, the helicopter crew located the man uninjured, still in the vicinity of Pooles Island, the Coast Guard said.

About 7:11 a.m., the crew conducted its second rescue of the morning, hoisting the man into the helicopter and taking him to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, where he received medical attention, the Coast Guard said.

Briggs said that before traveling on the water, "mariners should look at the forecasted conditions and bring sufficient supplies should their voyage last longer than they originally intended."

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun

Due to incorrect information provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the capabilities of a Maryland State Police helicopter. The Sun regrets the error.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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