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Oct 2, 2018 1:16 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Montauk Lobstermen Recall Their 'Speck In The Sea' Ordeal

John Aldridge holding the boot that kept him afloat while lost at sea for about 12 hours. ELIZABETH VESPE
Oct 2, 2018 1:57 PM

John Aldridge was literally little more than a speck in the sea after being thrown off his lobster boat, the Anna Mary, on July 24, 2013. A crowd was all ears on Friday evening at the Montauk Library for an interactive lecture and book-signing of “A Speck in the Sea” headed by Debbie Tuma, a journalist and Montauk native, as Mr. Aldridge explained the ordeal of being lost at sea for 12 hours on what had started out as a routine lobster fishing trip.

Mr. Aldridge recalled grabbing onto the latch of the boat’s new cooler at about 2:30 a.m., with his grip accidentally snapping the latch and propelling him off the back of the slippery boat and into the sea. At the time, the only other people on the boat, Anthony Sosinski and Mike Migliaccio, were fast asleep as the boat continued on its way.

“Within half a second, I’m falling off the boat,” Mr. Aldridge said as the audience gasped. “You realize today is the day you’re going to die, and you have to live through that fact.”

Mr. Aldridge said he was moments away from drowning because he’d exerted so much energy panicking. “I realized that my boots were very heavy and buoyant,” he added showing the boots that saved his life to the audience. The boots, which he turned upside down to use as buoys under his arms, kept Mr. Aldridge afloat for 12 hours. He told the crowd that he thought to himself, “I’m not dying right now, I’m not sinking at this second,” and that gave him a sense of empowerment.

Small black birds dove to peck at him, he said. He remembered the night being completely dark as 4-foot swells bobbled him through the sea. Members of the audience questioned how he was able to stay positive.

“I just focused on looking to the east, waiting for the sunrise to come up,” he said, “I kept setting small goals for myself.”

Two sharks swam at a distance he described by pointing to a chair only a few feet away. “I just have to stay alive to daylight,” he repeated to himself. He focused on slowing his heart rate down, and remaining clam.

“I whipped out my little 3-inch pocket knife,” he said. “If they [the sharks] came near me, I felt that I could beat them up,” he said as listeners chuckled. An hour after sunrise he heard a helicopter in the distance and knew someone was looking for him. “The water doesn’t make any noise—it is super silent,“ he continued. ”You can hear the blood in your ears and your veins.”

People passed Mr. Aldridge throughout the day on boat, plane, and helicopter without seeing him.

“Don’t tell the whole book,” Ms. Tuma interjected as audience members asked Mr. Aldridge to reveal how he was saved. “Obviously we know he survived,” Ms. Tuma said, to applause.

Then she asked for Mr. Sosinki’s take on the lost-at-sea misadventure.

“I was in total disbelief that John was missing,” Mr. Sosinski began.

After he’d been woken up by Mr. Migliaccio, who noticed Mr. Aldridge missing at about 6 a.m., the men searched the boat. Mr. Sosinski described the Anna Mary as 45 feet, mostly flat surface and open deck. “There aren’t that many places to look,” he said.

Mr. Sosinski noticed that the cargo space under the deck for 2,000 pounds of lobster was open and filled with water. “I thought, maybe he fell in and drowned,” he said.

When he realized Mr. Aldridge was missing, the boat was 62 miles from land—it had been 8 miles off the shore when they last saw Mr. Aldridge.

“I used to eat out of their refrigerator,” he said, referring to having grown up in Oakdale with Mr. Aldridge.

“The [Coast Guard] asked if he left a note [before going missing] ,” Mr. Sosinski said as the crowd laughed.

When Mr. Aldridge was finally rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard, he was wearing a blue Montauk Blessing of the Fleet T-shirt. “Probably the only article of clothing that he owned that was blessed,” Mr. Sosinski told him on Friday.

Mr. Aldridge stayed overnight in a hospital in Cape Cod, Massachusetts before returning to his parents’ home in Oakdale, where some 30 news trucks took over the street. He suffered second-degree sunburn on his face and severe dehydration, along with a swollen tongue and lips.

“How has this event changed your life?” several in the audience wanted to know.

To that, Mr. Aldridge said, “Well, I got a book and movie deal out of it.”

On a serious note, expressing he no longer “sweats the small stuff,” and has a new sense of gratitude for life.

Today, through a ghost writer, the men have a book titled “A Speck in The Sea,” which was in the process of being adapted into a movie with Harvey Weinstein’s company but now is in the hands of a screenwriter in Australia.

Some people at the library on Friday wanted to know who would play Mr. Aldridge. Jake Gyllenhaal and Casey Affleck are in the running, he replied.

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