JONESPORT — Three U.S. Coast Guardsmen were commended Friday for rescuing a periwinkle harvester who nearly froze to death after becoming stranded in a gale on a tiny, uninhabited island.
Petty Officer Jens Naglestad and Seamen Michael Riordan and Theodore Pogatshnick each were awarded a ribbon and letter of commendation by Cmdr. James Murray for their actions the night of Dec. 14 when they retrieved Jonesport fisherman Timothy Pottle from Sheep Island east of Beals Island. The rescue was staged in high winds and arctic temperatures.
“Your alertness and dedication to duty directly contributed to saving the fisherman’s life and are clear examples of why the Coast Guard is recognized as the world’s premier maritime service,” Murray said in his letter of commendation presented in a ceremony at the Jonesport station.
U.S. Rep. John Baldacci also presented the men with letters recognizing their heroism. After the ceremony, the congressman was taken by Cmdr. Murray and the Jonesport station’s senior officer, Jonathan Kinney, for a ride aboard the station’s new 47-foot vessel.
From Sioux Falls, S.D., Petty Officer Jens Naglestad said Friday he had responded to flare sightings before, but this effort was the first real rescue he had ever performed. He said it felt good to be putting his training to use.
“We were out there doing our job,” he summed up.
The night of Dec. 14, Naglestad was piloting the 21-foot inflatable boat that searched along the shores of Sheep Island for signs of Pottle, who had been picking periwinkles from the ledges there. The Jonesport fisherman had become stranded after the steering mechanism on his 8-foot motorized craft had broken down. He had shot off flares initially spotted by Cherie Millay on Beals Island.
Operating in 2- to 4-foot seas, the Coast Guard boat was pushed by the surf onto the tiny island’s northwest shore. As a wave swept over the craft’s stern, stalling out the motor, Naglestad said crewman Michael Riordan heard a cry and waded ashore in the frigid water.
Riordan found Pottle holed up in an old hunting shack. He had gotten sea water in his hip boots while trying to keep his boat from being swept onto the rocks. The fisherman had tried to keep his wet feet from freezing with his T-shirt.
“He was barefoot. He was on the verge of hypothermia,” Naglestad said.
Riordan and the other crewman, Theodore Pogatshnick, covered Pottle in wool blankets and carried him to the shore where he was transported to a 44-foot Coast Guard vessel standing by.
On board the 44-footer, Pottle was stripped to his underwear and wrapped in blankets. Riordan and seaman Jeff Henderson also stripped down and warmed the chilled fisherman with their body heat as they’d been trained.
In Jonesport, Pottle was transferred to the Jonesport ambulance driven by Beals Island resident Ray Brooks, whose girlfriend had first spotted the stranded periwinkle harvester’s flares. Brooks had recognized an SOS signal sent by the fisherman with his flashlight and had communicated back with his truck’s headlights.
Brooks alerted Beals Island resident Isaac Beal, who notified the Coast Guard. Beal and scallop fisherman Milton Merchant were preparing to go out and rescue Pottle when they learned the fisherman had been saved.