May 23, 2019

Penobscot Bay boat collision injures three lobstermen

SOUTHWEST HARBOR – Three lobstermen were hurt Monday, one seriously, when their 35-foot boat collided with a 51-foot sailboat in Penobscot Bay, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman said.

The crash occurred at 11 a.m. in dense fog about three miles off the coast of Stonington, according to Ensign Gabe Somma, spokesman for Group Southwest Harbor, the Coast Guard’s headquarters for the mid-coastal region of Maine.

The accident is believed to be the most serious so far this summer, the Coast Guard spokesman said.

Somma said the accident is still under investigation, but fog was a likely factor in the crash.

“These are two pretty big vessels. This was a serious accident,” Somma said. “It’s just another example of how dangerous it is on the Maine coast. Visibility was near zero.”

Somma also said that “both boats had operational, working radar at the time of the accident.”

The four people sailing on the Salty Mistress out of Hickory, N.C., were not injured, Somma said.

But the Maine fishermen, sailing on the Miss Elizabeth out of Stonington, were not as lucky. The father-son team, along with a third fisherman, were taken to Blue Hill Memorial Hospital after the father, Jay Clough Sr., 40, of Stonington, drove the lobster boat to shore. A hospital spokeswoman confirmed that Jay Clough Sr. was treated and released.

His son, Jason, 19, was knocked unconscious by the collision. He received severe facial injuries that will require plastic surgery, according to Somma. Jason Clough was later transferred to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and was still being evaluated Monday evening.

The third lobsterman, Luke Hartmann, 20, of Brooklin, also was knocked unconscious. He suffered lacerations as well, but not as severe as Jason Clough, Somma said.

Hartmann was listed in stable condition Monday afternoon, Somma said. The father was being treated for a possible broken rib.

The bows of both boats were damaged, but until investigators can talk to the lobster boat crew, it’s uncertain which vessel struck the other. The sailboat crew reportedly saw the lobster boat, but could not get out of its way in time, Somma said. The sailboat, which was registered to Hugo Deaton of Hickory, N.C., had a hole 4 inches above the water line and a crack running the length of the boat just above the water line. The lobster boat also received “major damage,” Somma said. The boats were hauled out of the water and stored at Billings Marina in Stonington, he said.

The Coast Guard launched a rescue boat out of its Southwest Harbor headquarters and the unit’s lifeboat, with EMTs on board, left from Rockland, he said.

Earlier this month, two boats went aground off the Down East coast in dense fog. Neither crew was injured, nor were vessels damaged. Also this month, a biology student who was boating to Butter Island, about 11 miles off Camden, got lost in the fog, grounded his 10-foot dinghy and ended up stranded overnight on a deserted island.

Mark Bloomer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Caribou, said Monday that fog envelops the Maine coast at least a quarter of the days year-round, making it one of the foggiest areas in the nation.

He said the fog is usually dense because coastal waters are so cold and deep.

The colder the water, the deeper the fog, said Bloomer, who specializes in maritime forecasting. He said fog is particularly a problem during the summer because of the moist, humid air, which condenses quickly over the frigid Atlantic.

“I would recommend all mariners to have functioning radar,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re basically piloting blind.”

Bloomer added that fog along the Maine coast often lifts in the bays and inlets but not in the open waters, so that boaters think it’s safe to sail when it isn’t.

“You get out in the open water and you’re totally fogged in,” he said.

He said the fog is especially thick in the Down East region of Maine because of the strong tides from the Bay of Fundy and along the northern coast of Maine, which keep the water stirred up and therefore prevents the air from warming sufficiently to dispel the fog.

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