By William Gilmartin
It was such a sunny day, blue skies with flat calm water; how could this beautiful day suddenly turn into such a nightmare?
It was Labor Day weekend 1973, when Stacey McDonough of Glen Rock, New Jersey and three friends took her 16’ foot Cobia motorboat for a 45-minute trip to Kismet on Fire Island, an easy and familiar trip. The foursome was meeting McDonough’s parents, where they would have dinner and celebrate her 18th birthday at the Kismet Inn.
Once out in the open waters of the Great South Bay, they saw dark ominous clouds coming in from the west, but figured they would be safely docked at the Kismet harbor before the clouds would reach them. Stacey and her boyfriend, both experienced sailors, misjudged, and half way to Fire Island they were hit with ferocious winds and driving rain. The 16’ Cobia bounced about the bay on top of waves of frothy white foam. The situation was out of control, but sink or swim, they had reached the point of no return.
“We figured we were somewhat safe because we were going into the wind and the thing about sailing is you always want to take the wind and waves head on,” said Stacey, who has been sailing since the age of 12. “We were close to the ferry lane and thought we could follow the ferries in. Little did we know, they shut down the ferry service,” she added. They hoped to get to dinner without taking on too much water, but there was no chance of that happening.
“Remember, we are dressed to go to dinner," she said. "Now all four of us are drenched and very cold.”
Unfortunately, Stacey’s luck was about to go from bad to worse because they needed to head south towards Kismet, which means the waves were now hitting them broadside, violently rocking the boat side to side.
“I go flying from the port side of the board to starboard, and if I didn’t have long hair at the time I would’ve fallen out of the boat into the water, because my boyfriend [who was driving] grabbed me by the hair and kept me in the boat.”
Stacey got lucky because now it was so dark they couldn’t see a thing. “Even with our running lights on, we couldn’t see anything except waves, so we had to reduce our speed and watch out for – and hope for – land!” Finally, 2 hours later, at 6 o’clock they arrived at Kismet, wet, cold, and exhausted.
What a way to celebrate a young woman’s 18th birthday, in soggy, seawater-soaked cloths. While it wasn’t the birthday Stacey was expecting that year, she did learn that she wasn’t invincible and walked away with a much greater respect for the water. Stacey still loves water sports and goes sailing and boating with her family every year. This goes to show that even if a single event scares you, it should not prevent you from doing what you love to do.