Wind, waves sink Miss Sambvca: A harrowing account of the rescue

GLOUCESTER, MA – On the evening of October 19, Tyler McLaughlin of the National Geographic Channel’s hit television series “Wicked Tuna” and his mate, Stephen Field, were fishing for bluefin tuna about 10 miles east of Gloucester on McLaughlin’s boat Pin Wheel.

Filming of the show was over for the season, so the two men were the only ones aboard when the weather suddenly took a turn for the worse.

Tuna boat Pin Wheel. (Shelley Wigglesworth photo)

Tuna boat Pin Wheel. (Shelley Wigglesworth photo)

“Right around 9pm, the wind picked up to at least 35-45 mph and the seas were swelling at about 8′-12′,” McLaughlin said.  “The visibility got really bad at that time, too, because of the waves.”

Two other boats were within a mile of the Rye, NH-based Pin Wheel when the weather changed – the F/V Mad Dog from Saco, ME and the F/V Miss Sambvca from Gloucester, another boat featured in the TV show, but with a different crew.

Tim O’Brien, captain of the Mad Dog, recalled the conditions that night.

“It was choppy earlier in the day,” he said.  “Then it got crazy, blowing hard, and it came on fast.”

Dave Potter, the 50-year-old captain of Miss Sambvca, described how, within a matter of minutes, the situation rapidly deteriorated.

“Once it got dark out, the wind turned around, and it came in hard.  It was blowing 45 mph northwest before we knew it,” he said.  “Then two rogue waves came on to our boat – one from the left, one from the right – one right after the other.

“The first one broke the ropes on the ice vats and the other one came up over the top of the boat right after and all the weight shifted to the starboard side,” Potter continued.  “When that happened, I knew that was it.  We began taking on water real quick and began going down fast.”

Dennis Bonazzoli, the 39-year-old mate on the Miss Sambvca, said he made a distress call just in the nick of time…

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