08/01/07 — Goldsboro men rescued at sea

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Goldsboro men rescued at sea

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 1, 2007 1:46 PM

It was supposed to be a birthday celebration -- three college men, a 21-foot fishing boat and the open water.

Goldsboro native Clint Rouse was sure that a day of reeling in King Mackerel off the North Carolina coast was the perfect gift for his childhood friend, Will Collins.

He had no idea that a "typical day" on the Atlantic Ocean would turn, quickly, into a survival situation.

"I turned to watch my buddy, he was fighting a fish in the back of the boat, and he's standing in ankle-deep water," Rouse said. "You didn't really think you were sinking, at least not at first."

So, calmly, the North Carolina State sophomore started filing through the lessons he had learned from his father, uncle and grandfather.

At first, he thought turning on the bilge pump would do the trick -- and if it had been working, it likely would have, he said.

"It wasn't going," he said. "So I'm flipping the switch frantically, like, 'Come on.'"

Meanwhile, Collins, also a Goldsboro native, and 20-year-old Eastern Carolina University student, Scott Kindle, started bailing water off the boat.

Boat Sinking 1
Boat Sinking 1

Photo submitted

Going, going, gone ... the 21-foot fishing boat slips under the waves, but after the two men are rescued.

"It wasn't working so I decided to give it some gas," Rouse said. "Ideally, if you give it some gas, you get the stern up and the water will just rush out the back. But there was enough water in the boat by that time, the motor was just digging down into the water."

After a few attempts, the motor finally cut off.

Water was now rushing in and it became clear to Rouse that the situation was grim when the water-tight cap on the deck that protects the boat's wires popped open.

"That's when I decided we were going down," he said.

Even as the three rushed to put on their lifejackets, Rouse said he still could not believe the boat was sinking.

Nevertheless, he called the Sea Tow hotline to request a rescue.

"We got through with only about half our conversation when the boat just toppled over," Rouse said. "Once that cap popped off, we were going down quick."

The boys found themselves, now, floating some 12 miles off the Emerald Isle shore, staring up at the overcast sky.

The boat was on its side for about 15 minutes, Rouse said. So while his friends hung on, he decided to ensure not all was lost.

"I was slithering around, trying to tie down as many rods as I could," he said. "And the tackle boxes."

But within a few minutes, his grandfather's 21-footer was completely upside-down.

"When we saw it was going to float, we decided to go sit on top," Rouse said. "At that point I was sure it was just a matter of time before someone found us."

What he did not know was that because his call to Sea Tow had been interrupted when the boat flipped, rescue crews were only able to record half of the coordinates.

They traced the boy's phone number to the Collins' family and after a call to his uncle in Georgia, reached his parents. But the boat was not theirs and they had no idea where the young men were fishing. So they put officials in touch with the Rouse's, a move that ultimately led to the rescue.

"My parents were in Winston-Salem watching my sister play Ultimate Frisbee and they get a call like the Collins' got," Rouse said. "They said, 'We got a distress call from your son and we don't know where they are."

His parents did not hesitate. They packed the car and headed toward the coast.

They called Clint's uncle, Billy Collins, along the way.

"He decides that if we were King Mackerel fishing, we would probably talk to my Uncle John to find out where to go," Clint said. "He's a tournament King Mackerel fisherman and luckily, I had talked to John the night before and he had told me exactly where to go. John tells me what to do when it comes to King Mackerel."

Help is on the way

Photo submitted

Assisted by local fishermen, Coast Guard helicopter and boat find the sinking boat.

Two Coast Guard boats and a helicopter were already scanning the area, but without the north/south coordinates, as it turned out, they were looking in the wrong place.

Luckily, Uncle John has connections.

Upon hearing the news that his nephew was lost at sea, he called fishing buddies up and down the coast.

One crew, aboard "The Right One Baby," was fishing in a tournament out of Southport and, "by chance," happened to be nearby.

"I mean, this is God right here -- they were the only boat we saw all day and they were fishing within a few miles of us," Rouse said. "They get the call to look around for us, they immediately reel up their lines and they just kind of look around one time and see us waving this orange flag we made out of the gaff and the orange (fabric) from the life jacket."

Close to two hours after their boat went down, they were rescued.

"The wake appears behind the boat and we're going nuts," Rouse said.

The young men had survived, using only what they had learned from the generations of family members who taught them about the sea.

"It was intense, intense business when we were in the heat of battle -- going down, trying not to go down," Rouse said. "But once we were in the water, my thinking was, 'All right, we're floating with lifejackets in 80-degree water. We're going to be fine. I've been in the water my whole life. We all have."

So it will take a lot more than a sinking ship and a few hours lost to stop Rouse and his "buddies" from getting back on that water.

A fisherman never falls out of love with the ocean, Rouse said. And one with faith never fears it.

"We went down and all survived. That was good to know," he said. "But overall, it just reassured my faith in God. I was out there in a pretty intense situation and I had the same faith then I have now. It showed me I don't have fake faith."