Almost three hours after they began searching the creeks and rivers of St. Helena Island, rescue workers saw a dim light, their first sign of a capsized boat and its three passengers.
The glow came from a flashlight, one of the only items three Upstate men managed to salvage early Saturday when their aluminum fishing boat began to take on water and capsize, according to Dick Jennings, spokesman for Beaufort Water Search & Rescue Squad.
One of the other items was a cellphone, which the men had used to call 911 at about 1:20 a.m., though the men, from Clinton and Kinards, did not know where they were, Jennings said.
By the time his son, rescue worker Richard Jennings, saw the flashlight, the boaters were soaking wet and shaking, floating in their life jackets and hanging onto their boat’s bow as it headed down the Morgan River toward St. Helena Sound.
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Dick Jennings said the boaters — Justin Kuykendall, Devin Lawson and Justin Tinsley — launched from Eddings Point at about 6 p.m., hoping to do some shrimping before heading to Hunting Island to camp.
They knew of the night’s forecast of rough winds and cool temperatures but thought they would still have time to fish, Jennings said.
When the men tried to turn back, strong waves killed their motor and began to sink their boat, Jennings said. They lost all of their camping equipment and food, he said.
“The winds were howling,” Jennings said. “They were helpless. They were just out there floating.”
Search & Rescue brought the men back to Eddings Point, where they received treatment from the Lady’s Island-St. Helena Fire District but declined to be taken to the hospital, Jennings said.
Crews tied the boat to a tree on a small island. Lawson’s grandfather, Roy Lawson, said Kuykendall’s father drove to St. Helena on Saturday to help them drain and retrieve it.
Roy Lawson, 73, said he was relieved that he didn’t hear about his grandson’s ordeal until about 4 a.m., when they were safely ashore. He said all three men are experienced boaters and have visited Beaufort County recently, but underestimated the dangers of Friday night’s winds.
“They were in for a big surprise when they got out there,” Roy Lawson said. “But they’re all doing OK now.”