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Young sailors rescue distressed kayaker in Port Jeff Harbor

Vessel overturned, man was struggling to breathe

Setauket Yacht Club instructors rescued a distressed kayaker in Port Jefferson Harbor in the area of the barge mooring, near the ferry channels on the east side of the harbor. File photo

September 05, 2012 | 06:13 PM
Young instructors watching over junior sailors in Port Jefferson Harbor got more than they bargained for recently, when they rescued a nearby troubled kayaker.

The teens and young adults are instructors for the Setauket Yacht Club's junior sailing program. Several of them were on the water with their students on Aug. 14 when they spotted an overturned kayak.

Rachel Sorrentino, a 17-year-old Stony Brook resident, said there was no one near the kayak, which was by the barge mooring on the east side of the harbor, so she and the other instructors in her small motorboat went over to investigate. "We see the man in the water, struggling to breathe." Sorrentino said he was "almost completely submerged" and she could hear him gasping for air each time his face surfaced.

The instructors threw the man a life jacket, according to head counselor Anna Folz. She said originally the man just asked for a life jacket — he had no flotation device with him in the kayak — and declined other assistance.

Folz, a 20-year-old from Stony Brook, said the man said he went out on the water with a woman who had children in the junior sailing program.

The pair had gotten separated and the woman was unaware of what had befallen her friend.

A second boat came over carrying more instructors, including Folz. She said the group tried to get the man into one of their boats and she noticed, "that he smelled like alcohol." His face and upper chest were blue.

Sorrentino described his color as purple. "He looked like he was barely breathing," she said. "There were beer bottles all around his kayak," floating in the water.

Rachel Gutman, a 16-year-old counselor who was in the second boat to arrive, said it was difficult getting the kayaker into their motorboat. "He thought he was helping a lot" to get himself onto the boat, but he was "a deadweight." According to Gutman, it took a full five minutes to pull the man aboard.

Folz said the instructors sat him up and he was leaning against her legs "because his body was weak at the time." They drove him back to the yacht club and she ran to call 911 for an ambulance.

Gutman, from Stony Brook, said she was afraid he was going to die, but by the time she and the others got him to land, he was able to stand up.

Folz said the rescued kayaker was upset that she called for help and "refused" to be taken to the hospital. The head counselor said police who responded to the scene found no need for an ambulance.

A spokesperson for the Suffolk County Police Department said in an email that "no action was required" by police upon arrival.

Sorrentino said, "I remember the man being very confused and he seemed more concerned about his kayak rather than the fact that he almost died."

This was her second save of the summer. Sorrentino, a counselor for five years, said one of her young campers got his hand stuck in a boat that had flipped over, and the weight of the vessel was more than his life jacket could support. She dove in and freed his hand.

While rescuing the kayaker in August, she said, it was "terrifying seeing this man drowning."

"It was definitely not a normal day at work, that's for sure," Folz said. She added she was glad the instructors were there to help the man, but it was "a pretty scary thing that happened and it could have been really horrifying ... if things went differently."

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