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Oct 2, 2017 12:08 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Oyster Farmer Has A Close Call In Lake Montauk

Avery and Mike Martinsen and their dog Kalea aboard the A.M. Bay. KYRIL BROMLEY
Oct 3, 2017 11:53 AM

September 5—“Tumbleweed Tuesday,” as Montauk locals call it—started off as just another day for Mike Martinsen, who took off aboard his boat, the A.M. Bay, from a marina off West Lake Drive. He and his son, Avery, 15, planned to motor to their oyster farm in Lake Montauk and prepare for Hurricane Irma, which was threatening.

The day couldn’t have been more perfect: brilliant sun, an azure sky, and a warm, summer breeze. Nothing was out of the ordinary that day for Mr. Martinsen, a 45-year-old veteran bayman, who grew up amid the hard-nosed oyster and clam industry of Northport. As they cruised out of Land’s End Marina, the only other occupant on board was their dog, Kalea, a white German shepherd.

The five-minute ride to the farm brought them square in the middle of Lake Montauk, within sight of Rick’s Crabby Cowboy Café and the U.S. Coast Guard station. Then, it was business as usual, replacing weak support beams and crosspieces with fresh 2-by-4s to support the floating nets in the event that Irma cut northward and made landfall on the island.

A momentary lapse of concentration changed everything.

Clutching a serrated Victorinox knife in his left hand, Mr. Martinsen grabbed a 2-by-4 with his right. Then, in a quick motion that he had probably made a thousand times before, he swung the 2-by-4 over to his left arm in an effort to balance the weight. As he did, the 3-inch knife blade sliced into his left wrist, severing blood vessels and cutting through 80 percent of the radial artery, doctors would tell him later.

At first, there was only silent shock. Mr. Martinsen dropped the 2-by-4 and clasped his left wrist. He looked at Avery, who was still too surprised to move, his feet rooted to the A.M. Bay’s aluminum floor.

A moment later, blood started to spurt from Mr. Martinsen’s severed artery, spilling onto the deck and creating pools over their gear. To make matters worse, the boat had drifted, causing the anchor rope to entangle itself in the boat’s propeller. Normally, the oysterman would simply tilt the motor up and untangle the rope himself in less than a minute. But this was clearly not a normal situation.

Mr. Martinsen realized he could not untangle the anchor rope from the propeller, let alone call for help or captain them back to shore. He was rapidly losing blood, and such actions would surely lead him to bleed out in the middle of the Lake Montauk.

Luckily, understanding had come to Avery as well. “I was scared at first, but I knew I had to be calm,” Avery said later.

A captain of the Montauk Junior Firemen, Avery leapt to the motor, lifted it up and untangled the anchor rope. His next move was to call 911. As his father struggled to produce his iPhone, Avery began the process of driving them to the Coast Guard station, which was less than five minutes away.

But with blood flowing from Mr. Martinsen’s wrist, he was unable to unlock his Iphone—the fingerprint feature simply wouldn’t work with all the blood on the screen. Taking the phone from his father, Avery desperately tried to type in the password, then remembered that the phone allows one to call 911 without unlocking the device.

Avery got through to emergency services as he steered the boat to the Coast Guard station, where they were greeted by Coast Guard personnel, EMTs and members of the East Hampton Town Marine Patrol, Town Police and the Montauk Fire Department—all of whom arrived on the scene within minutes.

Mr. Martinsen said the first thing he remembered feeling as he stepped onto land was relief. Even before the EMTs got to him, “I felt like a thousand pounds had been lifted off my shoulders,” he later recalled.

Later, when a hand surgeon, who called him “Mr. Montauk Pearl,” was stitching up his radial artery, the surgeon told Mr. Martinsen that had he remained out on the lake even a little longer, he would have bled to death.

Afterward, “I felt like I had a new lease on life,” Mr. Martinsen said.

Despite his doctors’ advice not to do so, Mr. Martinsen was back to his oyster work within a day or two.

But a quick return to work wasn’t the only thing on his mind: After the ordeal, Mr. Martinsen began seeing life from a new perspective.

“Before the accident, I had too much on my mind—the hurricane, my business,” he said. “Small things don’t really matter as much to me anymore, not even money.”

Mr. Martinsen said he realized that family time was paramount, including time with Avery. “He saved my life. If he wasn’t there, I would have died,” Mr. Martinsen said, recalling that had the accident occurred the following day, Avery would have been in school and he would have been alone on the boat.

Mr. Martinsen still rides out every day and attends to his oyster farm on the lake.

“I see what I do in a different light now,” he said, his new perspective being a culmination of many recent new experiences—accompanying a film crew documenting the tagging of white sharks, and visiting Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island to study various aquacultures and meet fellow oyster farmers.

“There is a beauty behind shellfish aquaculture,” Mr. Martinsen said, calling it a “circle of goodness,” because it can filter nitrogen and algae in water bodies, provide a natural habitat for juvenile fish, and help stock future generations of shellfish.

In addition, “I feel blessed in Montauk,” he said. “I came here in the pursuit of heaven.”

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Mike - So glad you're still with us!
By Dodger (143), Southampton Village on Oct 5, 17 10:23 AM
God bless that calm kid! Nice work Avery!
By Dafsgirl (53), Southampton on Oct 5, 17 12:04 PM