The U.S. Coast Guard rescued a family of three and their dog as their disabled boat was taking on water off the Duluth shore during what was supposed to be a relaxing day of fishing.
The operation involving numerous public safety agencies unfolded shortly before 3 p.m. Monday, when occupants on the boat called the Coast Guard and said their 22-foot vessel was in trouble about a half-mile south of the Aerial Lift Bridge.
On board were Thomas J. Rheaume, 41, and Sara M. Rheaume, 32, of Duluth. Also along was 4-year-old son Levi and Bradley Cooper, their year-old chocolate Labrador retriever.
“Just to let everyone know, we are home safe and sound,” Sara Rheaume reassured everyone on Facebook within hours of being back on land. “Thanks for everyone who reached out and was worried about us and the Coast Guard for the quick response to help us out.”
Along with water coming in the boat, its main engine had failed, according to the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office.
A 45-foot Coast Guard vessel went out to the boat, helped with restarting the engine, secured the leak and towed the vessel to safety at Rice’s Point Landing, said Coast Guard Lt. Sean Murphy.
It appears that the boat struck submerged debris just off Rice’s Landing, “causing seals around the lower unit [connecting the engine to the propeller] to breach and allow water to enter the hull,” a Sheriff’s Office statement read.
Tom Rheaume said the family was out to do a little fishing in what was supposed to be a low-key first time on the water this spring when “I noticed water on the floorboard. Then the main engine went dead.”
Taking no chances and despite having a backup motor, he called the Coast Guard and explained his family’s plight. He said the response was “super quick, friendly and helpful.”
In a moment of confession, he admitted that he forgot to put back in an engine plug that had been removed as part of the winterization process. He said his oversight had the engine pulling water into the boat.
Tom Rheaume, who on dry land is the head athletic trainer for the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, said he maintains “the utmost respect for that lake.” He said his 21-year-old brother, Matthew, was pulled under by rip currents and drowned in 2003 while swimming in Lake Superior off Park Point.
“I’m not going to take any chances out there,” he said. “It’s still tough to talk about, even though it’s been a long time.”