South Thomaston man dies in boat sinkingSon-in-law recounts ordeal at sea
South Thomaston — David Oakes of South Thomaston was in the process of saving his son-in-law's life the last time he was seen alive, according to family members.
Oakes, 46, died Oct. 25 when the 85-foot wooden fishing vessel Terra Nova sank about 3 miles off Cape Ann, Mass.
His son-in-law, Jason Randall, 33, of Rockland was with him as the vessel began to take on water on its way back to the Midcoast from Gloucester, where the dragger had received repairs.
"If it weren't for him, I probably wouldn't have made it," Randall said.
The two were bringing the boat up so it could be salvaged for parts, according to Oakes' ex-wife Tammy Oakes. It had been out of the water for about three weeks for repairs in Gloucester.
At about 8:20 p.m., Oakes called Tammy to say it was getting choppy and they were turning around. Seas were at about 4 feet, Randall recalled. Oakes said he would call her again in an hour and a half when he got back to shore.
By 8:25 p.m. he was on the phone with the U.S. Coast Guard, asking for extra pumps to help save the vessel as it started taking on water, according to Randall.
Randall said he noticed the boat taking on water at a faster rate, beyond what its pumps could handle. When he looked down into the galley, he could not see the floor due to the water rushing in. He went to the wheelhouse to tell his father-in-law, and they put on their survival suits.
Oakes gave the order to "abandon ship," Randall said.
As Randall went down the two steps from the wheelhouse to the deck, the boat tipped to the side and Randall started to slip.
Oakes, who was right behind him, grabbed hold of his son-in-law and tossed him over the side and clear of the boat.
"I never saw him again," Randall said.
Randall was in the water for two hours total. He said he hollered and hollered for his father-in-law, but there was no answer. It was 9 p.m.
"You're in the middle of the water, hollering for the only person with you, getting no answer," he said. "There's nothing to grab onto, no way to be safe. All you can do is lie there. It's quite frightening."
Eventually he spotted the Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter hovering over the water.
Randall is married to Oakes' daughter Randi. The couple has two children and the family was very close.
"He was a wonderful person," Randall said of Oakes. "He had a big heart. He did a lot for everybody."
After the sinking, Randall was taken to Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester.
Tammy Oakes said authorities believe Oakes may have suffered a heart attack during the sinking, but added he had also suffered a head injury.
She said he had survived a sinking in 2004 when he was the captain of the scallop boat Canadian Mist, which sank off Nantucket. The news of his death came as a shock to the family.
"Who would think he would die on the water," she said.
Courier-Gazette Editor Daniel Dunkle can be reached at email@example.com or 594-4401 ext. 122.
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Daniel Dunkle is editor of The Courier-Gazette and news director for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife, Christine, who also works for Courier Publications, and two children.
Dunkle has previously served as editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. He has worked as a reporter and photographer in the Midcoast for 15 years.
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