Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 01/19/07
BY JOHN GEISER
The enormous wave swept unnoticed from the wind-whipped sea â€”an aberration that seamen have heard about but rarely experience â€”and then fell on the anglers in the bow of the Jamaica while they were fishing last Friday, 60 miles from Manasquan Inlet.
This ocean Goliath hit Mike Paras of Lakewood first, picking the 275-pound former heavyweight wrestler off the rail and hurling him back against the winch.
"I saw it a split second before it hit me," he said. "It looked as high as the second-story window of your house. All I could do was yell "Wow!' and grip the rail with all my might.
"There was no way I could hold on; that wave ripped me off the rail and slammed me across the deck against the winch so hard I thought my shoulder was broken," he said.
"And out of the corner of my eye I saw Johnny Urciouli flying by me on his back on a wall of water," he added. "I can remember thinking, "What if he goes overboard?' "
Urciouli, Brick, was actually reeling in a sea bass when the wave picked him up and tossed him completely across the deck to wind up against the starboard side of the 125-foot aluminum vessel.
"I never saw it coming," Urciouli said. "There was nothing I could do."
Mike Prisco, also of Brick, had been standing next to Paras and Urciouli on the port side only minutes before, but decided to move to the starboard side. He was untouched by the wave.
"The Lord was with me," he said. "I was stunned by what happened."
Dave Arbeitman, owner of The Reel Seat, Brielle, was fishing near midship when the wave hit the party boat, which sails regularly from Bogan's Basin, Brielle, to the wrecks offshore.
"It came down along the side of the boat like a wall," he said. "John Vafiadis (Berkeley) was fishing next to me â€” closer to the bow â€” and the wave broke on me â€” up to my shoulder â€” and never touched him.
"I heard people say something, and I looked up and there it was," Arbeitman said. "I was reeling a fish in, and I couldn't do anything except wait for it to hit.
"There was stuff washing down along the deck â€” coolers, bait buckets, fish â€” and guys were soaked," he added. "I had on my foul-weather gear and that's what it's for. I wasn't hurt; so, after it passed, I went on fishing."
Paras and Urciouli, on the other hand, were not so fortunate. Both were bruised, shaken and suffered minor cuts. They spent the rest of the trip in the cabin with ice packs on their bruises.
"It was the worst fishing trip of my life," Urciouli said. "I sat in the cabin watching other guys out there catching sea bass."
"It was one of those things you'd never expect," Paras said. "I've been fishing all of my life â€” small boats and big boats â€” and never saw anything like this.
"I was talking to Howard (Capt. Howard Bogan Jr.), and the National Weather Service had predicted 10- to 20-knot winds with higher gusts; instead, it was 20- to 30- with gusts up to 40. And no one would have expected a rogue wave like this one coming out of nowhere."
Arbeitman said he and Vafiadis wound up with a good catch of fish: 30 sea bass, 22 porgies and a pollock.
"It was rough, but conditions weren't really bad," he said. "I could hold bottom with 14 ounces."
Arbeitman has seen his share of rough weather and seas over the years. Once on a four-day "Iron Man" trip aboard the Yankee Captains, the big New England party boat that winters in Florida, they got in one day of fishing before a vicious storm hit.
"It was so bad we couldn't get back to port," he said. "We had to lay up in the lee of the land for three days. We couldn't even fish; we played cards for three days."
Arbeitman shrugged off Friday's experience, and said he expected to book another trip aboard the Jamaica next week.