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Coast Guard rescues fishing crew with broken rudder

Posted at 6:48 PM, Oct 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-28 18:48:35-04

A fishing crew is thankful to be back on dry land after being saved at sea. The crew of the "Karen Belle" out of Bradenton was towed to Bowditch Point in Fort Myers Beach after their rudder broke about 70 miles off the coast of Sanibel.

Timothy Bontrager, captain of the Karen Belle, said they heard a loud banging in the stern around 7 p.m. Thursday. The tiller rod to their rudder had snapped. 

"Basically at that point, we were stranded," Bontrager said. "We tried to stabilize the rudder ourselves, and it ended up breaking two pipe wrenches."

With winds around 20 knots and 7 to 10-foot seas, a broken rudder was a serious situation. The closest boat was 3 and a half hours away. 

"I almost called up my grandmother to round up some people and start praying," Bontrager said. "Once we found out that the Coast Guard was on its way, we knew we were going to be OK."

A Coast Guard crew got to the Karen Belle around 11 p.m. Thursday night, and began the long tow in to Fort Myers Beach. The Coast Guard switched out boat crews in the process to avoid fatigue.

"We have fatigue limits on our crews to make sure they are well-equipped for anything," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Ashley Johnson. "We switch out crews to make sure they're ready and can perform the mission at their best."

The Karen Belle tied up at the dock around 1 p.m. Friday. Bontrager said that a welder was on the way to fix the tiller rod. 

Bontrager credits the Coast Guard for saving his crew, their boat, and the $35,000 worth of fish in the hold.

"I'm just very thankful for the Coast Guard and the service they give us," he said.