By R/C William E. Husted, SN
Florida’s Palm Beach Sail & Power Squadron a unit of the United States Power Squadrons has honored sixteen student heroes from neighboring Riviera Beach Maritime Academy. A month before this event, these seafaring students were cruising toward Key West and the Dry Tortugas on a 10-day training mission aboard the S/V Denis Sullivan. Suddenly they became central figures in a highly publicized rescue involving three stranded fisherman adrift off the Florida Keys.
High school sophomore T.J. Quails, with only ten minutes remaining on his watch, spotted signal flares in the evening sky. He immediately alerted his ship’s captain who notified the United States Coast Guard. The captain promptly directed the ship toward the sinking fishing boat, which was located more than ten miles southeast of Islamorada. Realizing the danger of the situation and that there was no time to wait; crewmembers and students lowered First Mate Scott Hooper into the water to make the rescue. Braving a darkened sky with seven-foot seas under twenty-knot winds, Hooper managed to bring two of the injured men back to the 137-foot schooner. The third man swam to the safety of the students’ waiting hands.
While those aboard comforted the freezing fishermen, still in shock, the Sullivan’s hull sustained serious damage. The arriving Coast Guard helicopter lowered the necessary pumps that enable the ship to return safely to port. Thanks to these prompt actions, the fishermen have survived and the ship has been repaired to sail again.
Power Squadron Commander Gary L. Ferguson was so impressed by the valiant efforts of those involved that with the collaboration of Lt Commander Darryl Aubrey, he invited the entire maritime academy to an honors luncheon. As part of the festivities event chairman, Lt. James A. Tedesco, prepared awards as a tribute to the heroes and their classmates. The squadron presented Academy Principal, Capt. Gidget Greco, an honorary squadron membership and presented each student a certificate of achievement. Lt. Tedesco also donated the framing of an 18”x24” “Rescue at Sea Commendation” certificate and a group photo of the sixteen students for display at the Academy.
Other squadron members joined in the celebration and made personal donations. Past Commander Fred P. “Fritz” Bierschenk, awarded the school a complete set of USPS instruction manuals, and Lt. Commander Richard C. Hofmann, presented a Mark 25 Sextant for use by all students.
The brave actions of these student sailors were only the beginning. A long-standing sailors’ bond between Palm Beach Sail & Power Squadron and the Riviera Beach Maritime Academy of Florida has been formed.