Charter Captain Dies After Capsizing in Treacherous Seas at Quick's Hole

By James Kinsella
Gazette Senior Writer

A Fairhaven charter boat captain died Sunday after his 25-foot boat capsized in turbulent water in Quick's Hole, throwing him and four passengers into 60-degree seas.

Kenneth J. Murray, 50, of Fairhaven, the skipper of The Last Call, showed no vital signs within 30 minutes of being taken out of the water and placed on the deck of a nearby fishing boat, Playtime. Efforts to revive Mr. Murray by two Coast Guardsmen - an emergency medical technician and a rescue swimmer - were unsuccessful.

The four passengers on The Last Call, who were fishing customers of Mr. Murray's, were rescued from the water by another nearby boat, the Mary & Phyllis, and survived the accident. The Coast Guard identified the passengers as Joe Mazurek, Paul Helmle, Richard Wezaeo and Robert Brunish. No address was available for the four men.

The two fishing boats brought the passengers and Mr. Murray to Menemsha. The four passengers were taken by Tri-Town ambulances to Martha's Vineyard Hospital in Oak Bluffs, where they were treated and released.

No report was available yesterday on Mr. Murray's cause of death. His body, after being taken to Menemsha, was transferred to the medical examiner.

The tragedy occurred quickly late Sunday morning in the relatively narrow passage of Quick's Hole, which separates Pasque and Nashawena island in the Elizabeth Islands chain. Quick's Hole, which is due north from Menemsha and due south from New Bedford, extends about one and a half miles north and south, and is three-quarters of a mile across at its widest point.

The Last Call, which previously had experienced engine trouble, had lost power and was being towed by another boat, Pops Toy, according to Petty Officer Nicholas Prescott of Coast Guard Station Menemsha.

Mr. Prescott said the wind was blowing 20 knots out of the north northeast, running against the tide. As a result, seas that were one to three feet in Vineyard Sound were swelling six to eight feet in Quick's Hole. He said the tow rope apparently was too short, which failed to give The Last Call enough slack to ride the waves.

Water had come into the boat, leading the four passengers to go to one side of the vessel where it had accumulated to bail out the water. A subsequent wave flipped the boat all the way over, Mr. Prescott said.

Petty Officer Yolanda Rogers of Coast Guard Group Woods Hole said the four passengers were wearing life vests, but that Mr. Murray was not wearing one.

Ms. Rogers said Mr. Murray was aware that he had been having a problem with The Last Call's battery, but that the boat was carrying spare batteries.

Mr. Prescott, who was on duty at Menemsha Sunday, said that the Coast Guard received a mayday call at 11:45 a.m. He redirected a 21-foot boat from the Menemsha station, already en route to Aquinnah, to Quick's Hole. The 110-foot cutter Tybee from Group Woods Hole and an HH-60 helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod also responded to Quick's Hole.

The 21-foot boat, under the direction of Bosuns Mate 2nd Class Jeremy Stephens, ferried the medical technician from the Tybee to the Playtime. The helicopter subsequently lowered the rescue swimmer and an emergency defibrillator to the deck of the Playtime. Neither Coast Guardsmen could revive Mr. Murray.

The four passengers, taken by ambulance from Menemsha, were treated at Martha's Vineyard Hospital and released. The men subsequently were taken via the New England Fast Ferry to New Bedford, where two of them were interviewed by members of the Coast Guard Marine Safety Office in Providence, R.I. Ms. Rogers said the capsized boat was taken to New Bedford.

John (Bucky) Burrows, a seasoned Vineyard charter fisherman, was in his 18-foot boat about a mile away when The Last Call capsized. Mr. Burrows said the wind, combined with the ebbing tide, had created difficult sea conditions at Quick's Hole.

"The wind was blowing out of the northeast or east northeast at 20-25 knots," Mr. Burrows said. "It was blowing much harder right there," given that two islands funnel the wind down the channel.

"It was a very tough situation," he said.

Nonetheless, Mr. Burrows said a lot of fishing boats were near and in Quick's Hole when The Last Call capsized. He and other skippers listened to the emergency traffic on the radio. Within an hour, he said, word had spread that a drowning had occurred.

"Everybody's pretty upset about it," he said.

For his part, Mr. Burrows plotted his return to the Vineyard on Sunday carefully, traveling along the southern shores of the Elizabeth Islands to Woods Hole. There he hooked into the protective wake of a Steamship Authority ferry and followed it back to the Vineyard.

Quick's Hole isn't always problematic, however. "On a decent day, there's so little to worry about," said another experienced Vineyard recreational fisherman, George (Sandy) Lockwood 3rd.

New England Fast Ferry, which began service last June between New Bedford and the Vineyard, actually traveled through Quick's Hole during its first two months of operation, company president Michael Glasfeld said.

Mr. Glasfeld said the company found the relatively open passage of Quick's Hole to be far less tricky than Woods Hole, which combines a sharply bending channel with nearby rocks.

Even so, Mr. Glasfeld said, the company later chose Woods Hole as its usual route. Contributing to the decision: the flock of recreational fishing boats that congregate at Quick's Hole in the summer, along with a greater propensity to become fogged in. Still, Mr. Glasfeld said, the company's fast-ferry skippers still use Quick's Hole when conditions warrant, usually about every two weeks.

Another longtime fisherman and fly-fishing guide in Vineyard waters, Sam Bernard, said the movement of water in the passages of the Elizabeth Islands between Vineyard Sound and Buzzards Bay "kind of acts like a big sink. I've actually seen the channel markers pulled under and then popping up, like the Jaws thing."

Mr. Bernard said the tow boat may not have been going fast enough to maintain its steerage when the accident occurred.

"I certainly respect that hole and Robinson's Hole [another passage in the Elizabeth Islands], but it's probably not as treacherous as Woods Hole," Mr. Bernard said.

Mr. Burrows said there is never a guarantee that a boat is going to stay right side up. Years ago, he capsized his own boat in Alaska.

"When you go out on the water, it's a very unforgiving environment in any kind of a compromised situation," he said. "That's how accidents happen. It's a compound of mistakes."