Rescue at Sea: Between Hope & Despair

by | May 29, 2024

Above: The EGFD boat comes upon the Jimenez fishing boat off Despair Island. Submitted photo

EGFD rescues family of 6 off Despair Island early Monday

They were going out on the water to do some fishing and enjoy a beautiful Sunday ( 5/26/24) afternoon on Narragansett Bay. With no rain or wind in the forecast, it seemed straightforward, leaving from Middletown at around 4:30 p.m. and heading to Hope Island. 

What Joan (pronounced Jo-an) Jimenez, his girlfriend Yochira Sanchez, his uncle, Ricardo Lopez, and Jimenez and Sanchez’s daughters (three girls age 15, 13, and 12  between them) didn’t anticipate was fog, dense fog like Jimenez, who spent months at sea as a Marine, had never seen.

The fog set in not long after they left shore but it was moving quickly, so they set anchor and decided to wait it out. Indeed, after a bit, the fog lifted and they decided to continue toward Hope Island. 

At the island, they fished – ”We wanted the kids to feel the experience of grabbing a fish,” said Jimenez – and explored the island a bit. The fish were biting – they caught a striper, a black sea bass and a lot of scup. Looking back, Jimenez said they should have gone back earlier, but “we were having a great time.”

As darkness fell, they started back but almost immediately, dense, blinding fog set in. They hoped it would clear, as it had earlier. The boat, a 17-foot fishing vessel with no cabin, had no sonar either so they relied on the GPS on their phones. They set anchor again. 

“We couldn’t see anything,” Jimenez said. After two to three hours, it was starting to get cold and the kids were hungry, so they made the call.

At EGFD Station One in East Greenwich, the call from Metro Control in Cranston at around 12:30 a.m. of Memorial Day. 

When conditions are bad, it’s up to each department to decide if it’s safe to attempt a rescue. For the Jimenez and Sanchez families, it turned out to be a lucky day, because EGFD’s Lt. Ryan Grady was on duty. With 23 years of marine experience – 10 with the Marines and 13 with U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, Grady actually teaches safe boating for the Dept. of Environmental Management. 

With visibility so poor, said Capt. Bill Perry, who was also on that night, “we wouldn’t have launched the boat if Lt. Grady wasn’t with us.” Firefighters Ron Preston and Kevin King were also part of the call.

There was another piece of good fortune: the EGFD boat had just gone back in service days earlier after getting new engines. The Portsmouth and Bristol fire departments also headed out to search. The EG boat set out using sonar to guide their way, putting in the coordinates Jimenez had phoned in. 

“Timing is everything,” said Grady. “What they did that was good was they gave accurate coordinates to where they were.”

But where they were going happened to be a particularly difficult spot, just off of Despair Island, which is located off Hope Island, west of Prudence Island. It was a fatal boat accident off Despair Island in 2010 that prompted the formation of the Narragansett Bay Marine Taskforce, made up of fire, police and harbormasters. Grady, who has extensive search and rescue experience, was one of the founding members.

“We had to be careful,” Grady said. It was nearly 1:30 a.m. when  they got within around 100 yards of the fishing boat as they saw it on radar. They powered down to listen. Right away, they heard cries for help. 

“We had to go past them a bit first…. We just had to make a careful approach. We didn’t want to bomb in there,” he said. “They were very close to the rocks. In another couple hours, I think they would have been in real trouble. That particular area is very dangerous.”

Jimenez said they knew boats were looking for them and were thrilled when they realized their rescue was at hand. 

“They tied the boat, warmed us up. They went out of their way big time,” he said. On the way back to the EG boat launch, Grady showed the girls how to he navigated using the sonar. 

“He knew exactly what he was doing,” said Jimenez. “These guys definitely are something – what we call heroes.” 

Jimenez said the experience wouldn’t keep him from going out on his boat again but, he said, “I will definitely do a lot more homework with the weather.”

“Everything went as good as it could,” said Grady. “They were grateful and happy. A good ending. That’s the reward really. It’s nice to have something positive like that.”

Lt. Ryan Grady’s tips for safe boating:

– Know what your limitations are

– Know the weather

– File a float plan: tell someone you know where you are going, your intended destination, how many people on board, and how long you plan to be out

– Consider taking DEM’s safe boating course

“I love the ocean,” Grady said. “Many of us do. We want to be able to do it safety.”

A letter from Joan Jimenez to the EGFD: 

Dear East Greenwich Fire Department,

I am writing this email with profound gratitude and immense relief after the remarkable rescue operation conducted this past weekend by LT Ryan, Crew Capt Perry, FF King and FF Preston. Their heroic efforts saved me and my loved ones from a potentially dangerous situation while we were stranded at sea, and I cannot express enough how grateful we are for the swift response and expert handling of the situation.

The professionalism, courage, and unwavering dedication demonstrated by the members of the East Greenwich Fire Department crew were truly remarkable. Your team’s quick thinking, coordination, and expertise were instrumental in ensuring our safety and bringing us back to shore unharmed. In a moment of distress and uncertainty, your selfless actions provided us with a sense of security and reassurance that is beyond measure.

My family and I want to extend our deepest appreciation to each and every member of the East Greenwich Fire Department involved in the rescue operation. Your commitment to serving the community and willingness to put yourselves in harm’s way to help others is nothing short of admirable. It is because of your bravery and professionalism that my loved ones and I are able to be here today, safe and sound.

Please convey our heartfelt thanks to everyone who played a part in our rescue. Your dedication to duty and unwavering service to the community are a testament to the noble values that the East Greenwich Fire Department upholds. We are forever grateful for your heroism and selfless sacrifice.

Thank you once again for everything you do to keep our community safe. Your bravery and commitment to serving others are an inspiration to us all.

With deepest gratitude and warm regards,

Joan Jimenez, Yochira Sanchez, Ricardo Lopez, Jayanni Jimenez, Niliani Jimenez and Dashira Sanchez.

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Jean B McLevedge
Jean B McLevedge
May 29, 2024 6:12 am

Thank you for a riveting account that ended well. We are lucky to have these dedicated, talented public officials.

Julie Temple
Julie Temple
May 29, 2024 8:49 am

Great article. So glad for the happy ending. Sounds like the EG team went above and beyond to keep our community members safe. Thank you to all involved.

Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson
May 29, 2024 10:15 am

Bravo EGFD! Somewhere, Fred Miller is smiling.

John Deere
John Deere
May 29, 2024 12:17 pm

Great end to what could have been a tragedy. Sounds like great training, experience, execution, and most of all dedication to helping those in danger!

May 30, 2024 6:29 am

” We wouldn’t have launched the boat if Lt. Grady wasn’t with us” sounds like the rest of the fireman need additional training to me. Glad everyone was okay..


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