A Close Call on the Sound

Wesport Fire Department photo

What started out as a normal practice turned into an ordeal for 27 high school-age athletes and two coaches from Saugatuck Rowing Club late on Wednesday.

“The water was the cleanest it’s been all season,” said Finn Nestor (photo, left), who was aboard the first boat to capsize and sink when winds and waves turned violent. “We saw nothing going out,” he said. “No winds, no waves.”

Things changed as the boats, each with nine rowers, neared Cockenoe Island, stopped, and spun around to go back. Heavy gusts “came out of nowhere,” said Mr. Nestor. “Giant waves started crashing into our boat. It didn’t take long for the entire boat to fill up with water.”

His boat capsized and sank. Soon, so did another. Mr. Nestor and his mates swam to a chase launch steered by the team’s coach and climbed on board. Rowers from the second boat clung to the sides of the launch.

Soon, the launch began taking on water. Mr. Nestor said he and others “migrated back and forth” from stem to stern, rocking the boat to dump out water. A second launch arrived on the scene and began taking rowers back to shore, but Mr. Nestor and several others stayed with their coach.

“We bounced around to keep from capsizing,” he said. But eventually the boat’s engine flooded, the bow submerged, and it sank.

Emergency response

By now at Compo Beach, emergency responders from the Westport Police, Fire Department, and EMS had arrived at what a Fire Department release described as “a chaotic scene of youths swimming to shore, arriving by boat, and some still in the water.” They were soon joined by police boats and emergency responders from several neighboring towns and the U.S. Coast Guard.

After about 40 minutes in the water, Mr. Nestor and the others who had been on the first launch were taken by boat to shore, where they were attended by EMS crews. “We were all pretty hypothermic by then,” he said. The Westport Fire Department reported that the water temperature at the time was 44 degrees. Two rowers were taken to a local hospital and released the next day.

Mr. Nestor gave high marks to his coach, who was “super composed. He did a great job settling everyone down and reassuring us we would be okay.”

As for himself, Mr. Nestor said, “I knew if I freaked out all the blood would go to my core and my extremities would be messed up. I was pretty numb from the cold, so I just tried to keep calm.”

Mr. Nestor said he also found the ordeal to be, in a way, revelatory. “I think it showed that our team is really strong and can get through stuff,” he said. “It’s sort of inspirational that we stuck with our coach when the launch was sinking.”

“We reassured each other that it was all going to be good. That it was just another day on the water.”

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