‘He Knew It Was Dangerous’
Soon after the Coast Guard began its search for a fisherman believed to have fallen overboard 30 miles south of Montauk last week, the difficult phone call was made to notify his next of kin in New Bedford, Mass. Kaylen Quintin was driving when she received a call from a number she first figured to be solicitors. Something made her pick up.
Her father, Thomas A. Quintin Jr., was seven days into a 10-day trip aboard the scallop dragger the Miss Shauna when he vanished on July 3. She had many questions for the Coast Guard personnel in that first phone call, but they had few answers. The search for the 55-year-old single father was conducted by air and sea, with help from 10 fishing vessels in the area.
After she got off the phone, Ms. Quintin called her family, including her 17-year-old brother, Noah. “We got together — huddled and prayed,” said Ms. Quintin, who is 24. It would be an excruciating three hours before the next update from the Coast Guard. Still nothing.
As the hours dragged on, what little hope she had dwindled. “I don’t know what it was. I think something in me knew” he was gone, she said. “I had a feeling. I hoped it was wrong.”
The Coast Guard offered hope. “Everything was in their favor,” she said. Only half an hour had gone by between when he was last seen and when he could not be found on the boat. Weather conditions were good. “There were only three-foot seas. The current wasn’t doing anything crazy,” his daughter recalled. They even mentioned that John Aldridge, a Montauk lobsterman who fell overboard in 2013, had been found alive after 12 hours at sea.
However, as dark fell on the Fourth of July, 28 hours after Mr. Quintin was reported missing, the Coast Guard called off the search.
“At the end of the day,” Ms. Quintin said, “it’s still the open ocean. Everything can be in your favor, and it can still be like finding a needle in a haystack.”
The Quintin family was all too familiar with this harsh reality. A third-generation fisherman from New Bedford, Mr. Quintin’s grandfathers were also lost at sea.
Wilfred Armand Quintin, his biological paternal grandfather, whose middle name he shared, was aboard the Paolina, a fishing vessel that failed to return to port in February of 1952. A small amount of wreckage was found, but there was never a trace of the seven-man crew.
His widow remarried, and her second husband, Ronald J. Foley, was on the dragger Eugene H. when it was rammed in heavy fog by a Liberian merchant ship, in May 1975. Four of the six crew members died. Mr. Foley’s body was never found.
Their names are listed on the cenotaphs at the historical Seamen’s Bethel in New Bedford. Mr. Quintin used to take his daughter there as a child to honor their sacrifices, and photographs show her proudly pointing to each of their names. “He would stress so often how dangerous this job was. He was doing this to provide for us. He knew it was dangerous. He knew it was rough on his body.”
He was getting older, and he wanted to retire and write a book about his family’s fishing history and about people lost at sea. He had started doing research. It was important to him that people know how difficult the job was. “I feel like a lot of times fishermen get a bad rep,” his daughter said. “It’s hard work and you have to be intelligent to do it, and if you’re not things go wrong.”
Safety was her father’s first priority, she said. He became a captain young, working on the same scalloping boat, the Patience, for about 30 years, until the owner’s family took over. Other captains, his daughter said, would do things he would not. “He valued his crew members. He wanted them to go home safely to their families just like he did.”
While captaining the Patience in August of 2011, he was credited with saving the lives of three recreational fishermen whose boat capsized 10 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard. He heard the distress call from the men, whose 20-foot boat, the Cynthia Z, had sunk. He reached them in 20 minutes and pulled them from the water to safety. The rescue was caught on a helmet camera.
According to an article written on the rescue on Samaritan Ministries, Mr. Quintin said one of them immediately thanked him for saving his life. “I said, ‘Don’t thank me, thank God,’ ” he told the publication.
Ms. Quintin described her father as a devoted Christian who had gone on three missions to India through Manna International. Each time he stayed two weeks, working in orphanages in the area, and she is sure he would have kept going as time went on. He loved children and looked forward to being a grandfather.
He relished being a father, Ms. Quintin said. She recalled his teaching her how to shoot a BB gun, but also setting up tea parties with her and letting her paint his nails. “When I look back, I see his handprint more than anybody’s.”
She has now been foisted into the role of caretaker and provider for her brother, who still has two more years of high school left. She is surrounded by a tight-knit family and the fishing community, the heartbeat of the city, but there is a sea of legal entanglements to unravel because her father is only presumed dead.
“I honestly think the most difficult thing is not knowing,” she said. He had never been on the Miss Shauna before and did not know the crew. It was also a much smaller boat, at 51 feet, than the boats he was used to — the Patience measured 101 feet. His back was hurting him and he thought working on a smaller boat might be a bit easier.
“That kills me on the inside. Had he just gone on the Patience maybe this wouldn’t have happened,” his daughter said.
His father died at 54 of a heart attack, and she said it is a possibility that a medical episode caused him to fall overboard. “If somebody saw something, just anything that would maybe give some closure. As much as that upsets me, that is the nature of the beast. She giveth and she taketh away, and in this instance she took away.”