It was a day of reunions for John Aldridge.
The Montauk lobsterman rescued by the Coast Guard on Wednesday after surviving nearly 12 hours in the Atlantic was released from a Massachusetts hospital into his family's care Thursday morning.
"It feels good to get home to see my parents," said Aldridge just before he boarded a ferry in New London, Conn., to return to Long Island.
The 45-year-old Oakdale native was discharged from Falmouth Hospital on Cape Cod about 9 a.m. and met with his sister, sister-in-law, brother-in-law and girlfriend. They went back via the Orient Point ferry, where he accepted congratulations from passengers who had seen his story on the news.
Aldridge then returned to his family's home, where he was greeted by a house full of family, including his beloved 4-year-old nephew Jake, who gave him a hug. Aldridge, who is unmarried and has no children, said he kept focused on surviving at sea by thinking about Jake, with whom he shares a special bond.
Jake, of Oakdale, is the son of his friend since high school, Tom Patterson, who is married to his sister Cathy. Patterson, who called Aldridge "a miracle," said the boy is fascinated with his uncle's job. "He's at the house a lot. He brings lobster and crab, teaches him about the stuff," Patterson said of their relationship. "He loves him."
Aldridge spent the afternoon relaxing with his family and trying to catch up on sleep. Outside, television crews lined the cul-de-sac. He had been primed by family to expect a lot of media attention. He said he is a private, reserved person and was a little unnerved by the attention.
"If I knew it was going to be like this, I would have stayed out there," Aldridge joked.
The lobster boat captain said he will be back at his job as soon as next week. "I've got traps filling up right now," he said. "I've got to get to them."
Aldridge had been treated for dehydration, exposure and hypothermia but was otherwise all right after his ordeal. "We didn't know if he was getting out today or not," his sister-in-law Jillian Aldridge said. "We got a text message from him saying, 'They're giving me the boot, come get me out of here.' "
The search, which found him more than 40 miles away from where he fell in, covered 780 square miles and involved Coast Guard crews from five states and fellow fishing crews.
Aldridge, who wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the name of his vessel, the Anna Mary, said friends told him that when his crew and co-captain had pulled the boat into Montauk, they were greeted by cheers, waves and tears Wednesday night.
He had fallen off the back of his 44-foot fishing vessel Tuesday night when he tried to move a cooler, the handle snapped off and he lost his balance.
Without a life jacket, he used his boots under his arms to help him float. He speculated that he swam about three miles overnight and camped at a buoy for three or four hours hoping someone would see him.
Finally, about 3 p.m., a helicopter found him. "They said, 'We've been looking for you for eight hours.' I said, 'I've been looking for you for 12.' "
The 19-year lobsterman owns his boat with Anthony Sosinski of Montauk. His boat's crew was looking for him overnight, as was the entire fleet of Montauk lobstermen, Aldridge said.
He said he plans to reward his crew. "I know they lost a day's pay because of me, so I'm going to have to throw them a big party," he said.