TRENTON — Absolutely Delightful was taking on water.
The 18-foot jet boat had been on a joy ride off the coast of Atlantic City on Tuesday. Captain Henry Wilson and his two young passengers traveled from Wilson’s summer home in Sea Isle to see Lucy the Elephant in Margate.
Wilson, 60, of Philadelphia, figured he’d take the kids up the coast a bit further to see the casinos glistening on the boardwalk. It was a trip he’d taken plenty of times in over a decade of boating along the shore, he said in an interview.
But the wind-whipped wake was choppy and a cluster of large, commercial vessels cruising nearby sent the waves even higher, spilling water onto the deck.
Wilson and the two passengers — siblings Brianna and Scott Bernhard, the children of family friends — moved toward the back of the boat to draw the water into the bilge pump, but it kept coming. Water gathered in the boat’s motor compartment, Wilson said, and he lost power.
“When the water got up to my waist, that’s when I called the mayday,” Wilson said.
State Trooper Russ Ryan heard the call and “was there in a minute,” Wilson added.
Ryan, a member of the division’s Marine Services Bureau, said in an interview he was on patrol in the Absecon Inlet and located the boat about a 100 yards off the shore from the Taj Mahal casino.
“I approach cautiously, but with enough urgency, because I don’t want to create a wake to knock them over, but I want to get there in time,” Ryan recalled.
The trooper pulled alongside the boat and was able to immediately grab 12-year-old Scott Bernhard.
“I was scared to death,” the boy said. “But then I saw the speed boat and I knew it was (the state trooper) and I wasn’t as scared.”
The trooper then turned his attention to the boy’s older sister, but things took a turn for the worse.
“As I’m reaching for her, she’s reaching for me, and our hands are getting further and further apart because her boat is starting to capsize,” Ryan said. He told the girl to jump into the water and she swam toward him.
“I had to tread water for not even 20 seconds until the trooper pulled me on board,” she said.
The captain, too, had to jump from the capsizing boat and swim to safety.
Wilson said Wednesday he was grateful to the trooper, who provided “door to door” service and brought the group home to Sea Isle. He said he was also impressed with the young passengers.
“They said they were scared to death but they were, to me, outwardly calm and did exactly what I said,” he said. “The fact no one was injured and we’re all safe is the greatest thing to me.”
Wilson’s wife, Maureen, said the kids also acted swiftly as the water swelled.
“In a true teenager manner, Brianna got all the cell phones off the boat without them really being damaged,” she said.