Conery: Sea story: Overboard mystery

Sometime after 8 o'clock on July 23, 2013, the commercial lobster boat Anna Mary leaves port in Montauk, and sets a course for the fishing grounds, some 50 miles due south. The boat is co-owned and co-captained by John Aldridge and Anthony Sosinski, who grew up fishing, crabbing and clamming together after their families settled in Montauk.

They love the area and make friends among the tightly knit fishing fleet, including with the legendary Frank Mundus (upon whom the Quint character in “Jaws” is partly based). Both men admit they were not born to punch a clock. They are among that breed of men who both delight and find solace in what another Montauk local, the writer Alan Weisbecker, calls “seahabilitation.”

Their trips are 30-hour endurance fests, fixing busted gear on the way out and then hauling traps for 15 straight hours before heading in.

Around 3 a.m., Aldridge goes out on deck to move some water between the tanks so it won't slosh around (the fancy term for this is free surface effect; it's the reason your drink spills if you suddenly stop walking). Attempting to move a heavy cooler, the handle breaks, Aldridge loses his balance and falls overboard. Like many lobster boats, the Anna Mary has no transom to ease trap deployment. All Aldridge can do is scream obscenities as his boat motors away from him. Sosinski and first mate Mike Migliaccio are sound asleep in the forepeak. The boat's lights soon go out of sight and Aldridge is alone.

Or alone until two six-foot blue sharks arrive and begin to circle him.

Sometime after 6:15 a.m., the mate wakes up and goes on deck. No Aldridge. He wakes Sosinski and gives him the news that all captains fear most—man overboard.

Sosinski manages to raise the Coast Guard on 16 even though he can barely croak out the words over the radio such is his grief and confusion.

CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) data shows that since 1999 more than 200 commercial fishermen have died after falling overboard—at least 5, and as many as 20, in any given year. It is 23 times more dangerous than a typical American occupation.

Once in the water, the numbers are grim. Water temperature is the biggest variable, and it was summer, but even so—you can still go hypothermic and die in waters above 60 degrees. A fit man of Aldridge's age (45) can only stay afloat for about 20 hours, with a “functional survivability,” or ability to keep swimming, basically, as short as four hours.

At 6:30 a.m., only eight minutes after taking Sosinski's radio call, Coast Guard petty officer Sean Davis issues the dreaded advisory: “Pan pan, pan pan, pan pan. USCG Sector Long Island, at zero-six-thirty … report of a person in the water south of Montauk Point, New York.”

Eight minutes! All assets are put to sea—including Coast Guard helicopters and a fixed wing aircraft from Air Station Cape Cod, plus at least 30 private and charter boats who drop what they're doing (including some very surprised customers who are given summary refunds and dumped on the dock), head boats, private sailboats and even the musician Jimmy Buffett, who happened to be out fishing in the area—and begin to search an area almost the size of Rhode Island.

Do they find Aldridge? Do they find him alive? You'll have to check out, “A Speck in the Sea,” the just-released non-fiction paperback from Hachette Books.

So while Russia is busy locking up hooligans ahead of the World Cup, it's time to ask ...

What's Going On?

Buzzards Bay/Cape Cod Canal: Red Top weighed a 25-pound bass on Tuesday, but overall said the last week in the Canal has been slower. I spoke with one guy who drove there Wednesday morning only to be met by skunks. So it goes. Out in Buzzards Bay, they are slamming the black seabass, including, according to Jim at Eastman's, some big “purple heads,” so called because they really do light up bright purple—and sometimes green—when you catch them, and the larger males have a pronounced bump on their heads. Interesting fish. Black seabass are protogynous hermaphrodites, meaning they all start as females and some later become males. Arguably the best table fish in local waters, too.

Islands: Coop says squidding on the Vineyard remains woeful, but they've got bass on all compass headings with bluefish “sporadic.” They'll show up someplace—Wasque maybe—and be gone in an hour or two. I spoke with captain Bob DeCosta with Albacore charters this week. He's a second generation Nantucket fisherman, a retired two-term selectman, and took the call on the way back to the dock; they'd done well on stripers (20) and a few fluke. Elsewhere, Bill Fisher reports good numbers of bass on the southside, with some bigger ones to about 30-pounds, as well as terrific black seabassing.

Cape southside beaches and estuaries: Sunrise Bait in Harwich said they're getting keepers in the harbors now. Allen and Wychmere were two spots mentioned, as well as increasing numbers of blues out front. Lee at Riverview said there are schoolies in Bass River, with blues “all along the coastline.”

Nantucket Sound: Middle Ground has been slamming this week. A juvenile squid hatch may be responsible, but the boats were out here thick. Bass on top at first light—what could be better? Handkerchief Shoal is just starting to hold fish this week. Bishops has been busy with keepers coming up on the troll with some blues mixed in. I caught a keeper at Bishops years ago—before I had this column—and grilled it up for my dad on Father's Day.

The Great Backside Beach: Didn't hear much of anything from Seal City, USA this week. Most outer Cape action has been facing west, into Cape Cod Bay, where there are more bass.

Cape Cod Bay: Provincetown is the hot spot of the week; guys were getting keepers there in boats nearly every day. The Brewster Flats are holding keeper-sized bass, too, and the mackerel bite has been terrific. Even a few winter flounder still hanging around the Bay.

Freshwater: Honestly, this is one area that no matter how many sources I contacted, not one could give me a reliable freshwater report this week. Which is not so say there aren't fish in the ponds. There are always fish in the ponds. Where can they go?

Catch em up!

Information for this column was assembled from a variety of liars, exaggerators, mis-informants, ne’er-do-wells and roustabouts. In other words, from fishermen.