Pat Schoenberger, 38, and Jim Southward, 40, both professional sea captains, were rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter about 25 miles east of Cape Lookout, N.C., during the March 6 winter storm. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun video)

Now there was no option but to turn south and push into the Gulf Stream, with head winds peaking at 40 mph, more than half of hurricane force. They might be enjoying Morehead City right now, they realized, had they not just spent 10 hours motoring in basically the same spot.

Crashing seas

The Labrador Current flows down from near Greenland; the warm Gulf Stream begins in the Caribbean. They collide off the Outer Banks, creating seas so unpredictable the area is called the Graveyard of the Atlantic.

The boat had half a tank of fuel, enough to reach Morehead City. If they could average 6 knots, they'd arrive in 12 hours.

But they were entering seas that have claimed more than 600 ships during the past 500 years.

They also were entering a second storm cell that no one saw coming.

The nor'easter of March 2013 cut off power to a quarter of a million homes, dropped 30 inches of snow in Montana and left 3 feet of water in Hatteras Village, N.C. Two disappeared after a wave shattered a large fishing boat off the Maryland coast.

To those at sea, it beggared description.

Andante II's speed fell from 5 knots to 31/2, then 3 — "like being in a time warp," Southward said.

Southward hit full throttle up the front of each wave, then cut power at the top. "Mistime that and your 30,000-pound boat dropped 30 feet," he said.

Below deck, loose objects created a shooting gallery; the men stayed in the enclosed pilothouse. Gusts blew Andante nearly on her side; the first mate dropped 10 feet through space. Schoenberger gripped the aft door in case they capsized. Southward steered on.

About 3 p.m., a huge gust submerged the mast. When Andante righted, she heeled over 45 degrees, so far the engine couldn't take up fuel.

The crew had no way to steer and protect the boat from the crashing seas. She rocked so violently "it was only a matter time before one of us was injured or a wave punched the pilothouse door and sank us," Schoenberger said

At 5:34 p.m., he called for a helicopter rescue. All they could do now was wait.


Nautical photos line a hall in Schoenberger's Annapolis home, where the music is mellow, a faux fire glows in a corner and the two men tell their tale in sometimes hushed tones.

What happened that day made them brothers for life.

First came the wait. With "moving mountains" of water raging around them 25 miles from Cape Lookout, both knew a rogue wave could finish them. Time "slowed down to one grain of sand at a time dropping through the neck of an hourglass," Southward later wrote.

They prayed. They spoke of things they'd do differently if they lived.

At length, a white-and-orange chopper appeared, made three attempts to get near, then hovered below the tops of the waves.