Digest>Archives> March 2005

Piracy On The High Seas

My True Story

By Richard Salomon


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Little Gull Island Lighthouse as it appeared at ...

It happened on Monday…

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Rick Solomon is shown here from the time he ...

During Labor Day weekend of 1973, three of my friends and I decided to leave New Haven, Connecticut for Block Island on my 32-foot Chris Craft. We left the dock at about 9 pm. Around midnight, we ran into thick fog midway through Long Island Sound, slowing us down quite a bit. Shortly thereafter, we struck something that pushed one of the propeller shaft struts right through the bottom of the wooden boat, allowing water to rush in at an alarming rate.

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Robert P. Walck at the time of his experience in ...

The hole was in an inaccessible area. We were now down to one engine, and we were sinking fast in the thick fog. We did have a good idea of our position using dead reckoning. We made a distress call to the New London Coast Guard. After some discussion we decided that we would never make it to New London. They suggested that we head towards the foghorn on Little Gull Island and beach the boat there. At that point communication was lost as seawater was getting into the electrical system.

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Rick Conte and Dominic Ventura on board the ...

It was now 1 a.m. We were in the middle of Long Island Sound, and the fog was thicker than ever. We were within minutes of sinking, and navigating towards an invisible lighthouse using only the foghorn for guidance.

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Rick Solomon and his friends had an amazing if ...

Then a miracle happened.

We knew we were getting close to Little Gull as the foghorn was deafening. We were prepared to run the boat up on the rocks when the island came into view about 50 feet ahead. We expected to hit the rocks when we noticed that we were headed into a small cutout in the tiny island. The next thing that we saw was a dock with four Coast Guard guys, two with wetsuits, and a huge pump that was already running. We approached the dock, threw out a couple of lines and shut off the one running engine. Within seconds the divers were in the water stopping the leak and the boat was being pumped out. Talk about luck!

We were on Little Gull until about noon the next day when the Coast Guard came to tow us to New London for the repair of the extensive damage. While there, we were fed and provided with a nice warm cot for the night. All of the Coasties were extremely hospitable and it seemed like they enjoyed the unexpected company. The next morning, they made us a nice breakfast and then gave us a tour of the tiny island, the machinery and the lighthouse itself. Being a clear morning, I will never forget the magnificent view from the lantern room.

But wait… there’s more.

The Coast Guard cutter arrived about noon to tow us back to New London. The temporary repairs to the hull were rechecked and two gasoline-powered pumps were put on board. We thanked our four newfound friends for their hospitality, for saving my boat and most of all for saving our lives. We then secured the towline and left Little Gull Island. There were three Coasties on the cutter and aboard my boat there were my three friends, two Coasties and me.

About halfway across the sound, five people aboard a small runabout flagged us down. They claimed that their engine had quit. The Coast Guard then asked me if I would mind if the runabouts was added to the tow. We then tied a line from the runabout’s bow to the stern of my boat and then resumed the tow.

All was going well when suddenly my boat started taking on water again. The temporary patch let go and we were sinking for the second time in 24 hours. One of the pumps started and the other one didn’t. One pump could not keep up with the incoming seawater. We thought that we were definitely going down this time.

We stopped the tow and pulled the runabout up to our side. We then worked feverishly to hand over all of our valuables, electronic equipment, cooler and our clothes. One of the guys from the small boat kept saying as we handed the stuff to them, “I could use one of these.” We all kind of thought of it as a joke; a way to break the tension. We had planned to be gone for a week so we had quite of bit of stuff with us. Next we untied the small boat, as we didn’t want to take it down with us.

The Coast Guard dispatched a second boat to get the runabout.

We finally got the second pump running and the remainder of the tow to New London was successful. The boat was hauled and the adventure over, or so we thought…

The small boat that now contained the valuables and clothes of four people disappeared.

The Coast Guard vessel dispatched to rescue the runabout could not find it. After a couple of days without any contact with the people that now had our things, we started getting concerned. My friends and I started checking every marina in the area for information that might lead us to our things, but we got nowhere.

Somehow the story got into the newspapers. Shortly after all the publicity started, most of our belongings were dumped on the lawn of a state police station in Tolland, Connecticut.

So that’s my story. I am one of the lucky ones that got to spend a little time on a little island with a functioning, manned lighthouse. In spite of the circumstances it was a wonderful experience, one that I will never forget.

This story appeared in the March 2005 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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