Sailing School Says 4 Boats Capsized Before Rescue

Portsmouth Youth Sailing tells how 12 children were saved after their boats went adrift Tuesday on the Sakonnet River.

A previous report stated a young woman helped rescue eight children, but Patch has now learned two instructors were responsible for rescuing the young sailors. 

Portsmouth Youth Sailing resumed its summer camp Wednesday, only a day after on the Sakonnet River. 

Ted Gersen, president of Portsmouth Youth Sailing, provided clarification in an e-mail about what he called an "unfortunate incident" at Tuesday. 

According to Gersen, Portsmouth Youth Sailing held its Captain Camp at Sandy Point Beach yesterday. Approximately 12 children and three instructors took part in the program. 

After land activities and a required swim test, "instructors launched six Optimist Dinghy sailboats with two kids in each boat." The northwest wind speed was approximately 10 knots at the time. 

All of the children and instructors wore U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation devices, said Gersen. 

"Around 4 p.m., an unexpected, above forecast, breeze came up very quickly. Four boats capsized simultaneously," Gersen wrote in an e-mail. 

When reached by phone, Gersen confirmed the eight children in those four boats fell in the Sakonnet River. It is unknown how long the children were in the water before being rescued. 

One of the six boats managed to sail back to the beach. Another boat with its two crew were recovered by an instructor. 

Two instructors, in multiple trips in a motorboat, managed to pull the eight children out of the water and bring them back to shore. The children are around 10-years-old, according to Gersen. 

A woman on the beach also swam out to the drifting sailboats in an attempt to help. According to reports, the woman is believed to have been in the water for more than an hour.

Four of the empty boats were then left to drift. One of the instructors remained in one boat to bail water.

With the help of Portsmouth, Tiverton and Middletown Fire Departments, the Tiverton Harbormaster and U.S. Coast Guard, all four sailboats were recovered.

"We would like to thank all of the responders to the call," Gersen wrote. "It was run very professionally and all went well. We are truly sorry this situation occurred. Thankfully, it ended with all the children and instructors safe!"

Portsmouth Youth Sailing is a volunteer-run summer sailing camp, which has operated for six consecutive years introducing hundreds of children to the basics of sailing.

All of Portsmouth Youth Sailing instructors are U.S. Sailing Level 1 certified and trained in CPR and First Aid. Portsmouth Youth Sailing camps resumed their normal schedule this morning at 9 a.m.

East side June 27, 2012 at 11:59 PM
Yet there were 2 people in each boat. So a strong wind with two many people (weight) in the boat results in a dangerous situation.
Gail Simmons June 28, 2012 at 04:01 PM
That tender should have been with the sail boats and not on shore. Where were the instructors when the kids were on the water? The Board should determine a boat to tender ratio such that all kids are safe on the water. This should happen before more children are allowed on the water.
Kathy June 28, 2012 at 10:56 PM
I am the "young woman" who almost drowned trying to save 2 children and a sailboat. I wonder why the instructors never came to save me and the sailboat.
Drake June 28, 2012 at 11:04 PM
TheOneCalledZed June 28, 2012 at 11:34 PM
Mr. Gersen and the board of Portsmouth Youth Sailing owe the public a full and forthright accounting of these near-tragic events. I, for one, want to know what what their safety standards are and whether they were met that day. Anyone who has spent time in small boats, powered or sail, on New England waters, and who has been responsible for young children, knows that you have to plan for the unexpected by expecting the worst. Until I hear better from Gersen I am going to have to assume that PYS let their standards and focus slide with time.


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