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Saturday, May 30 Police Reports

Two rescued after boat crashes off Norwalk islands

STAMFORD — A New Hampshire man and his delivery captain are safe following a harrowing rescue off Sheffield Island Wednesday morning in a newly purchased powerboat he was motoring from Stuart, Florida home to Portsmouth.

Sgt. Peter Lapak, head of the Norwalk Police Department’s Marine Division, said it was a particularly difficult rescue. As the tide came up the 39-foot boat, valued at $300,000, sank, right after the rescue was made, Lapak said.

“In my whole career this was one of the worst ones, one of the most dangerous ones because of where we had to go, on top of the reef, and the sea conditions — the water was really cold,” said Lapak, a 26-year veteran of the Marine Division, about an hour after returning to shore from the rescue. “I’m really glad the guys were OK. They can get another boat.”

Norwalk Police Lt. Jared Zwickler said the marine unit responded to the call of a boat taking on water at about 8:15 a.m.

Boat owner Greg Mahanna, 54, from Portsmouth, and 61-year-old delivery captain Tom Raynor, from York, Maine, were were rescued and brought back to shore, said Norwalk Marine Officer Michael Silva.

Coast Guard Lt. Jennifer Sheehy said a distress call from the powerboat reported that the vessel had hit a submerged rock and was taking on water off the Norwalk island.

The powerboat ran aground in the area of Great Reef, just south of the western point of Sheffield Island. The area is known to be treacherous, especially for boaters unfamiliar with that particular bit of island coastline.

“It is a huge pile of rocks that is invisible at high tide and potentially deadly,” Lapak said. “It has claimed a lot of boats over the years.”

The tide was rising at the time of the accident.

Knowing where the boat had run aground, Lapak and officer Michael Silva chose to pilot the unit’s rigid inflatable boat, which has a shallow draft, out of Norwalk Harbor’s western entrance north of Sheffield Island. But when Lapak made the turn out into the Sound, a stiff southeast wind was pushing high waves at them. Because the shipwrecked boaters reported they were sinking, Lapak said he had to throttle the open lightweight craft through the high seas, launching it out of the water a couple times, causing some clamps holding the center console to the deck to snap.

Once he got near the boat, Lapak positioned the police craft to allow the wind and waves to push it alongside the cabin cruiser. Having raised the props to his outboard motors, he was able to drift onto the other boat and pick the two men up. After pushing off the sinking vessel, he allowed his boat to drift over the reef before putting his motors back in the water and transferred the men to a waiting boat to bring them in.

Lapak said Sea Tow, a company that recovers and tows disabled boats to safety, was working out a plan to recover the boat.

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Reached in New Hampshire later on Wednesday, Mahanna said that he and Raynor were about a day away from ending their trip to Portsmouth.

After making their way up the east coast via the Inter-Coastal Waterway, the pair began Wednesday motoring out of a calm Manhasset Bay on the north shore of Long Island, headed to the Cape Cod Canal. But once on the Sound, Mahanna discovered his marine forecast for the day, which predicted one-foot seas, was way off.

“We were getting totally pounded by five- to seven-foot waves,” in a stiff southeast breeze, he said.

He decided to head for the south shore of Connecticut in hopes of staying out of the wind and waves. But while hugging the Connecticut shore he got too close to Sheffield Island and hit Great Reef. Mahanna, who said the boat was well insured, added he is an experienced sailor who through the wind and waves did not see the rock on the electronic GPS map screens he had on the bridge.

“We ended up on the top of the ledge sitting there,” he said. “I’ve been a boater for 35 years. I’m not an idiot who goes out and buys a new boat and doesn’t know what they are doing.”

Manhanna said he could not be more complimentary of Lapak. “He did a fantastic job getting us off that boat. He’s got skills. Oh my God,” Mahanna said.

jnickerson@stamfordadvocate.com

John Nickerson|Police and court reporter

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