Search for Missing Fishermen Continues in Tide-wracked Cobscook Bay

EASTPORT — A three-day joint effort by the Maine Marine Patrol and a team from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) last week failed to locate two draggers that sank with all hands in separate incidents in Cobscook Bay this year.


Late last month, the 34-foot urchin dragger Bottom Basher sank apparently unobserved in icy waters with three men on board. Despite an ongoing search, only one body has been recovered. Searchers located the body of Darrel Cline of Lubec, 41. Still missing are the vessel’s owner, Joseph Jones, 29, of Trescott and Norman Johnson, 57, of Cutler.

In March, the dragger All American sank not far from where the Bottom Basher was last seen, killing her captain, Loren Lank, 53, of Lubec and 19-year-old Logan Preston of Roque Bluffs. His body has not been found.

Last week, a NOAA Mobile Integrated Survey Team (MIST) and the Marine Patrol spent three days searching the waters near the Reversing Falls State Park for the two vessels for evidence of what may have caused their sinkings. The NOAA team worked from the Eastport pilot boat, captain Robert J. Peacock’s 48-foot Medric II, while the Marine Patrol had two vessels on hand.

“Bobby really did a lot of work,” said Maine Marine Patrol Lt. Alan Talbot. “He put a small house trailer on board where everyone could work in comfort. It was really like home.”

According to Talbot, the Bottom Basher is thought to be somewhere between Falls Island, southeast of Mahar Point and the Reversing Falls park, and the entrance to Dennys and Whiting bays. The All American is believed to be on the bottom farther to the east, somewhere between the Reversing Falls and Leighton Point.

Scouring the bottom with highly sophisticated side-scan sonar brought to the scene by the NOAA scientists, the searchers located two “areas of interest” during their survey. On Saturday, divers from the Marine Patrol and the Maine State Police dove in both locations and came up empty.

“In one place they found ledge, at the other they found nothing,” said Talbot, who was Eastport supervising the search for much of last week.

Although the NOAA team has gone home, the search of the two vessels and their lost crews hasn’t ended. Talbot said both state police and Marine Patrol dive teams on training missions would return to the area over the next few weeks.

“We will keep looking,” Talbot said.

The search is complicated by extreme conditions. Cobscook Bay is known for its extreme tidal range and some of the strongest currents anywhere. According to Talbot, the fast-running tides often produce standing waves in the area where the vessels are believed to have sunk, and divers have only a limited period of time when it is safe for them to be in the water.

“There’s a very small window of slack to put a diver in the water,” Talbot said.

Like the communities in which the lost fishermen lived, the Marine Patrol finds the disappearance of two fishing boats and the death of five fishermen in such a small area troubling and inexplicable.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Talbot said Monday. “Seven months, two catastrophic losses, and we can’t find them.”

Although there is no hard evidence yet as to what caused the sinkings, Talbot said it was most likely that both boats snagged their urchin drags on some underwater obstruction and capsized.

“Our best guess, we think their drags hung down,” Talbot said. “Most boats tow from up high in that area”

But, as Talbot said, that is only a guess.

“We’ll never know for sure,” he said, “even if we find them.”

For more maritime news, pick up a copy of The Ellsworth American.



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