November 29, 2006

Thomaston Vessel Owner Found Alive, Crewman Dies

By Tom Groening, Bangor Daily News, Maine

Nov. 28--PORT CLYDE -- One fisherman died and another survived after their vessel sank Sunday about 80 miles east of Portland.

Jim Weaver of Thomaston, a crewman aboard the Taylor Emily and believed to be in his late 30s, died. His body was recovered by a fishing boat Monday morning.

Chris Yattaw, age unknown, also of Thomaston, survived the sinking and was rescued Sunday night by another fishing boat. Yattaw was transferred to a Coast Guard vessel from Rockland on Monday and brought to the station Monday afternoon.

The Taylor Emily was groundfishing, according to fishermen in Port Clyde, where the vessel docked. The 50-foot fishing boat left the harbor Saturday for waters southeast of Vinalhaven and east of Portland.

The death rocked the tight-knit fishing community on the St. George peninsula, coming just 16 months after the sinking of the fishing vessel Sirius, which took the life of Gary Thorbjornson, 42, of Port Clyde. It also reinforced the harsh reality of the dangers of making a living from the sea.

A man at the Weaver residence on Route 131, a small house overlooking the St. George River, said the family did not want to speak to a reporter. About a dozen cars were parked at the house.

Weaver is believed to be married with two children.

Efforts to reach Yattaw by telephone were unsuccessful, and no one answered the door at his home on Bobolink Lane, a newer subdivision overlooking the St. George River on the opposite bank from Weaver's house.

Lauren Downs, petty officer with the Coast Guard's Boston public affairs office, said it may take weeks or months to determine what caused the sinking.

"There wasn't bad weather," Downs said Monday afternoon, with 1-foot seas reported with unlimited visibility and no significant winds.

It was unclear whether both men were on the deck when the boat sank. Fishermen in Port Clyde speculated that the boat may have rolled, perhaps because of a rogue wave or because the net and gear it was dragging caught on the bottom.

It was believed the men were pursuing monkfish and other bottom-dwelling species such as cod, haddock, hake, pollock and halibut, which are caught by a net about 130 feet long, held open at its mouth by a pair of metal "doors" and weighted to keep it near the bottom.

The Blue Water III, a fishing boat from Medomak, made a distress call to the Coast Guard at about 10 p.m. Sunday, according to the Coast Guard, reporting that the crew had rescued Yattaw in a life raft but could not locate Weaver.

A Coast Guard cutter patrolling about 60 miles away was sent to the scene to search, as was a helicopter from the Coast Guard's Cape Cod station. A jet joined the search Monday morning, and at about 9 a.m., the fishing vessel Paulo Marc from South Bristol recovered Weaver's body.

Weaver was not wearing a life jacket, the Coast Guard reported.

Two fishermen in Port Clyde said it was unlikely any problems the Taylor Emily experienced were related to poor maintenance, since Yattaw was known to be meticulous with his vessel.

"I know Chris really well," Justin Libby, 26, of Rockland, a fisherman who works from Port Clyde, said Monday.

"He's been doing it a long time, and he is really good at it," he said.

Fishing with just two men is not unusual, Libby said.

The boat was "immaculate. He was a perfectionist," he said of Yattaw.

The Taylor Emily is one of three boats owned by the Yattaw family, he said. The boat is not top-heavy, Libby added, and not prone to rolling. Libby has worked on the vessel.

Chris Chadwick, 26, of Port Clyde was unloading traps from his lobster boat Shadow Hunter with a stern man Monday afternoon. Like Libby, Chadwick said Yattaw kept his boat in top shape.

"I think those guys were fishing for monkfish. Saturday, I watched them leave," he said.

With the calendar year ending, fishermen are often eager to use up their remaining "days at sea," an allotment of days they may fish set by federal regulators. Fishermen must work to squeeze in those days at this time of year between bouts of bad weather, Chadwick said.

"It makes you fish days you don't want to fish," he said of the allotment system. "Winter on the water is pretty [bad]."

Chadwick was surprised to learn Weaver apparently was not wearing a life jacket.

"Jimmy wears a life jacket," he said, describing one that inflates automatically when it comes into contact with water.

"It's the second guy we lost," he added, referring to Thorbjornson. "We're all pretty much a family."

Even with the bad news, both Libby and Chadwick remain committed to a life on the water.

"I'm looking to get a bigger boat" to go groundfishing and shrimping, Chadwick said.

"I'm in the process of getting my captain's license," Libby said.

"It is scary," he conceded. "Stuff happens."


Copyright (c) 2006, Bangor Daily News, Maine

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.

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