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)

A rescue swimmer leapt into the water and swam to the boat. Gripping the transom, he spoke in calm tones. Southward, who jumped into the water first, says a wave swept him so high he saw Andante II "three stories below."

The diver gripped his shirt, towed him from the foundering boat and waited until a basket dropped from the sky to haul him to safety.

Half an hour later, when Schoenberger, too, tumbled into the chopper, "I sobbed like a baby," Southward said.

The Red Cross tended them in Elizabeth City, N.C., home to the Coast Guard air station. Andante has not been found.

Inevitably, some will question the men's decisions. The Coast Guard is not among them.

"We simply weren't there in that boat with them," said Chief Petty Officer Nyx Cangemi, a spokesman for the Fifth Coast Guard District in Portsmouth, Va.

The two insist they did their best with what they knew.

They're ecstatic to see friends again, glad for the heroics of rescue workers and grateful that Andante's owner, who wants to remain anonymous, emailed his support.

Will they head back out to sea again? Both say yes — together, if they get the chance. But their future's about more than that.

"Jim and I have been given a great gift," Schoenberger said. "We plan to put it to use."

jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com

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