“One soul in the water, one retrieved. Everybody’s alive and the boat’s been retrieved,” Captain James Cogan reported on VHF radio aboard the North Ferry boat Mashomack just after sunset Saturday night.
During the run that departed Greenport around 7:30 p.m. bound for Shelter Island, the crew of Jennifer Card Venth, James Cogan and Michael Mundy saw a man fall from his skiff into the 47-degree water.
They changed course, pulled him out of the water, and aided by the crew from another ferry, corralled the errant skiff, and delivered man and boat safely to shore a little after 8 p.m., keeping both their cool and their schedule.
Ferry crews are in harm’s way every day, especially now that COVID-19 forces them into direct contact with a steady stream of potential virus carriers. But on Saturday evening, the crew of Mashomack had more than microbes to contend with.
The crew had been about an hour into their shift with Captain Venth at the wheel, when they saw a man guiding a 12-foot aluminum skiff, standing up, without a life vest. He had passed just behind the ferry when Captain Mundy saw him go into the water.
The crew immediately began to follow “man-overboard” procedures they had practiced many times. Captain Venth, who was at the forward wheel, asked Captain Cogan, who had the most years of experience at the helm, to take the wheel and guide the 130-foot-long ferry boat close enough for the crew to pull the man — later identified as Stephen Worsham, 25, of Greenport — out of the water while keeping the ferry between the man and his skiff, circling out of control nearby.
While Captain Cogan steered toward Mr. Worsham, swimming fully clothed in the frigid water, Captain Venth kept eyes on him and Captain Mundy deployed rescue gear over the side, including a ladder, platform, ropes and life rings.
The skiff continued to run in circles as the Mashomack crew worked to corral the uncontrolled boat, which had become a hazard.
“Every single passenger got out of their cars to see if they could help,” Captain Venth said.
“That was probably the first live action the passengers had watched in several weeks,” Captain Cogan said.
Mr. Worsham was helped aboard by Captain Mundy, who also provided him with a dry change of clothes.
He had cuts to his arm and forehead, but declined medical attention.
He returned on Sunday to see about his boat, and leave a few cases of beer as a gesture of thanks to the crew who most likely saved his life.
“On the ferry the next day, I looked up at the ladder system on the second level and realized how fast they brought it down to the water,” Mr. Worsham said. “I’m glad they were there. They could not have done better.”