Fishermen Cling To Boat For 36 Hours

Wednesday, September 20th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Forty-five miles out at sea and battered by waves from Hurricane Gordon, two vacationers clung to their capsized boat for 36 hours and thought of anything to keep from thinking about death.

``We were thinking the last about steaks,'' said Michael Peeler, who along with Carl Kennedy were finally plucked from the ocean off Cape Fear Monday night after a Coast Guard helicopter spotted their emergency flare.

The rescue was even more remarkable because Kennedy, a 33-year-old truck driver, and Peeler, a 40-year-old carpenter, didn't tell anyone Sunday before setting out from their Oak Island hotel room to go fishing.

``We were lucky. The Coast Guard told us they were out of flying time and that was their last pass,'' Kennedy said Tuesday. ``We hadn't told anyone where we were at because we didn't know where we were going.''

The men from the central North Carolina town of Randlemen were barely on the water for three hours when the bilge pump on Peeler's 19-foot boat broke down and the vessel began filling with water.

The water was knee-deep before the boat capsized about noon Sunday. By then, the waves tossed by the outer storm bands of the hurricane reached 30 to 40 feet.

``We crawled on top of the bottom of the boat. We got some ropes and tied them across the boat each way and hung on,'' Kennedy said.

Kennedy, who doesn't know how to swim, donned the only life jacket onboard just before the boat capsized. ``I never did think we were going to make it. Mike was the strong one. He kept telling me, `I got no doubt we're going to make it.'''

They might not have made it if not for Annice Narcise, who works at the Oak Island Inn. She noticed the two men were missing after they didn't check out on time Monday.

``My first reaction when I saw they had not been in their beds, knowing the life of fishermen, I couldn't visualize them staying out all night,'' Narcise said. ``I got bad vibes about this, and you don't know what to do, so I called the Coast Guard and took a chance that they might be in trouble.''

The Coast Guard sent out two boats from Oak Island and Wrightsville Beach and two helicopters from Air Station Savannah and Air Station Elizabeth City. Rescuers on board with night-vision goggles spotted the flare off Cape Fear and hoisted the men in from 15-foot seas.

Their first meal after being rescued: T-bone steak.

The men said they won't go fishing again soon. But when they do, they'll be better prepared.

``We had all kinds of thoughts,'' Peeler said. ``We have regrets ... you can think of things when it's too late.''