Three people and two dogs abandoned ship at the mouth of Portsmouth Harbor on Saturday after their 72-foot yacht burst into flames.
There is no word yet on the cause of the fire.
Part-time lobsterman Tom Hadley was in his small boat laden with traps when he looked back and saw smoke coming from the yacht behind him.
“I thought, ‘Oh, they’re having engine trouble. I’ll go back and I’ll stand by in case they need some assistance,'” Hadley said. “As I headed back, the smoke got thicker. And as I approached the vessel, it literally burst into flames.”
Hadley was afraid to get too close in case the burning boat exploded.
“So I yelled to them to get in the water,” Hadley said. “They had pool noodles, of all things, to hold onto. And there were two dogs involved also.”
Arthur and Diane Watson of Connecticut were on board with their dogs and Jarrod Tubbs of Florida, according to the New Hampshire State Police’s Marine Patrol.
“I was a little concerned that they might panic and try to climb in the boat and overturn me,” Hadley said. “But they didn’t.”
Hadley pulled Diane Watson onto his boat first, then the dogs, then Tubbs. With the water temperature in the mid-50s, Hadley said the ship’s captain, 67-year-old Arthur Watson, was starting to struggle in the water.
“I still had this older gentleman, a fairly large person, in the water,” Hadley said. “There was no way I was going to be able to haul him over the gunnel. Fortunately standing by was a couple guys in another boat.”
As the yacht continued to burn, he said the two young men pulled Arthur Watson onto their boat.
After dropping all of them off at the dock, the three were checked out at a local hospital.
Hadley said none of the three had life jackets, just the pool noodles.
“Wherever you can determine on your boat where you’re going to abandon ship from, the life jackets should be nearby to that,” Hadley said.
The burning yacht ended up drifting into the current of the Piscataqua River and sinking off the coast of Kittery.