Amid whipping winds, a U.S. Coast Guard crew from Montauk Monday rescued three commercial fisherman who were clinging to the bow of their sinking boat in the waters off Gardiners Island, officials said.
The unidentified fishermen had tried in vain -- using a mechanical pump and buckets -- to stop the sinking of the Groton, Conn.-based 41-foot vessel named Robert James. It ultimately sank minutes after the rescue, Coast Guard officials said.
"They had water all the way up in the pilot house," said Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Brent Walsh, who drove the rescue boat to the site about 2 to 3 miles off Gardiners Island. "They were going down quickly."
The three fishermen were never submerged in the water and not injured, officials said. They could not be reached for comment. What caused the vessel to sink is unknown, Coast Guard officials said.
It was a close call, said Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Jetta Disco. She said the men were not wearing life jackets when they made their distress call that their boat was "taking on water and sinking fast" about 3:45 p.m., after first trying to pump the water themselves.
She said had they not made the call when they did -- and been directed to don their safety gear -- "they could have sunk . . . without their life jackets."
A four-person rescue crew launched a 47-foot motor lifeboat at 3:47 p.m., arrived about 10 minutes after the call and found the vessel "partially submerged," she said.
Complicating the rescue, said Walsh, were the hazardous sea conditions. Coast Guard officials said the winds were blowing at about 25 mph at the site of the rescue.
The National Weather Service had issued a small craft advisory about 25 minutes before the distress call, warning of "rough conditions on the water," and seas of 5 feet or higher.
Walsh said he put the boats bow-to-bow and the fishermen walked onto the rescue boat. "They were calm, but they were nervous," he said.
The rescuers determined it was unsafe to pump out the boat due to the conditions.
The Robert James remains submerged, and Coast Guard officials said it was not a hazard.