As the family’s boat sank in the chilly waters off Greenport Gerlin Polanco listened to his two young children ask “Are we going to die?” and made a promise to himself.
“If something is going to happen, it’s going to happen to me because I’m going to make sure I do everything so they can survive,” he recalled Thursday.
The day after two men and a boy heard his children’s screams from shore, Polanco thanked God and the three Good Samaritans he called “angels” for pulling Gabriel, 9, and Isabella, 5, into their boat.
“That was the best moment ever in my life,” the Westbury father of four.
Another family, Sal Agosta, his son John, 8, and his brother-in-law Kevin Quarty were near the shore when they heard children shout “help” and spotted the sinking vessel about 7:45 p.m..
“I heard the kids screaming and then the horn, three blasts,” said Agosta, 39, a Porsche mechanic from East Marion. “We saw a boat go by. . . . It was upside down and submerged. Just the bow was sticking out of the water.”
The three raced to the Gull Pond docks, to Agosta’s 31-foot cabin cruiser, named Not Enough Time.
Half a mile out and almost 15 minutes later, they arrived at a “debris field” with coolers, seats and fishing gear and three people - with just the son wearing a life jacket.
“They were holding on to a cooler,” said Quarty, 36, a construction business owner from Southold.
After getting them on board, John, a third-grader, got them water and towels, and Quarty said he will never forget the image of the two shivering children, wrapped up in towels, the girl crying.
“I just kept asking them if they were OK,” Quarty said. “All they said was they were out fishing and the boat stalled and then it started taking on water.”
Polanco, a Macy’s business manager, said he took his children fishing after school, hoping to catch seabass. Not long into the boating trip, the engines that Polanco checked before the trip stalled. Then with the bilge pump unable to keep up, he opened a new package of flares - none worked. He called 911, then hung up on the operator when he could not tell her his exact location.
One of the worst moments was when he realized Isabella had not put her life jacket back on after using the bathroom, the father said. He wrapped the rope of the boat’s buoy tight around her waist, told the children to do exactly as he ordered and waited in the water.
About 15 minutes later, the Good Samaritans came upon them.
They brought the family ashore at the Gull Pond docks, where the victims were taken to Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport to be checked for hypothermia, said Southold Police Sgt. Henry Santacroce.
Polanco hopes his adventure reminds boaters not to get too “comfortable” in the waters because anything can go wrong. He said his children have recovered from the adventure, and he and his wife Juliana want to meet the rescuers to hug them.
“Help others,” he said. “You never know when it’s going to be your turn to need someone.”