A commercial fisherman by trade, Mark Lofstad recalled keeping calm as the stern trawler he was captaining caught fire.
"I've done this my whole life," said Lofstad, the captain of Tradition, a fishing boat out of Shinnecock. Tradition, adrift in the Atlantic Ocean after a Thursday morning engine fire, was towed safely back to pier by 7:30 a.m. Saturday, according to Lofstad and U.S. Coast Guard officials. "I dealt with everything as it came."
The commercial fishing boat had been disabled after a fire in the engine room cut its electricity, Lofstad said. In the waters nearly 69 miles south of the Shinnecock Inlet, the boat was returned to shore more than 30 hours after an initial distress call was placed.
The Coast Guard unit in Shinnecock got a report about 11:30 p.m. Thursday about a vessel in distress from another nearby commercial fishing boat, the Rhonda Denise.
Lofstad, 53, of Hampton Bays, said he has been fishing nearly his entire life. He owns the boat with his cousin, Raymond Lofstad, 54, of Hampton Bays, who was not on the trip. Lofstad was with two deckhands.
Lofstad said he sought to extinguish the fire that broke around 8:30 a.m. Thursday while his deckhands signaled for help from nearby boats who came to Tradition's aid.
"The coordination effort throughout the response for the disabled fishing vessel Tradition was paramount," said Petty Officer 1st Class Morgan Gallapis, from the Long Island Sound Command Center.
The response was to include an aircraft from Cape Cod that wanted to drop a communications kit onto the Tradition, which only had a 12-volt battery powering its communications. Lofstad said he declined the offer, instead turning to auxiliary batteries as an alternative power source. The Rhonda Denise had unsuccessfully tried to tow the 63-foot Tradition twice, Lofstad said.
With deteriorating weather conditions and a forecast of gale winds offshore working against the rescue effort, Coast Guard officials decided to send the patrol boat, Coast Guard Cutter Sanibel, from Woods Hole, Mass., which had been nearby. Lofstad said he worried about the engine; wires were burned, he said. "It shut down on its own, and it made a horrible noise," he said. At that point, he recalled thinking, "We'll be here for a week."
There were no reported injuries. Information on how many people were on each of the vessels was not immediately available.
Marine investigators are still determining the cause of the Tradition's engine fire. No safety violations were found.
By Saturday evening, Lofstad appeared unnerved by the drama. "Fine," he said, when asked how he was feeling. "Just another day."