How former Coast Guardsman and Nantucket resident Joe Tormay answered the call of duty.
The mayday crackled over the radio just as darkness was beginning to descend over Nantucket harbor. Joe Tormay was motoring back to the dock when he heard the distress call. A boat named Sea Wolf had accidently run aground on the east jetty with six souls on board. Not more than two hours earlier, Tormay had seen the forty-two-foot Duffy loading up next to him at the pier. Now Sea Wolf was pinned up on the rocks — helpless and calling out for aid.
A former Coast Guard petty officer stationed at Brant Point, Tormay immediately shot into action. “I know what the Coast Guard can and can’t do,” he says. “So we cruised out to help.” By the time Tormay and his friend Jimmy Sjolund arrived, the Coast Guard was on the scene throwing life jackets to all six men aboard the Sea Wolf. The scene wasn’t pretty. “They were high up on the jetty,” he remembers. “They almost drove over the whole thing but their port quarter was still hung up on it.” Sea Wolf was hanging precariously on the rocks like a seesaw. Its back end was propped up nearly eight feet above the water line on one side of the jetty, and its front end was down to the tumultuous water on the other side.
“The water on the inside of the channel is deep enough for our Coast Guard boats, but outside of the channel it gets very shallow, too shallow for us to get around,” says Nantucket Coast Guard Petty Officer John Feniello who was also on the scene. “The problem was that when their boat went up on the jetty, it listed over hard to starboard. So in order for us to get the people off the boat, our plan was to have them shimmy off on the low side, climb around the jetty, and we were going to throw a line to them and pull them in.” But Tormay had a better idea. Instead of having the crew of Sea Wolf jump in the water and almost onto the rocks, Tormay suggested that he drive around and pick them up from the other side of the jetty. “It gets really shallow in there,” he said, “but I’ve driven in there before.”
The coxswain of the Coast Guard gave Tormay the go ahead. With the sky darkening around them, he handed command to Sjolund and grabbed a flashlight to navigate safely around the jetty. “It was pretty rough, pretty windy, three to four foot seas,” Tormay remembers. “So we went around and cleared the east jetty and came around to the other side and picked up the guys off the starboard side one by one.” With all six men safely on board, Tormay delivered them to the Coast Guard Station.
The following morning, pictures emerged on the local news showing the snagged vessel propped precariously over the rocks. On social media the news spread quickly, heralding Tormay and Sjolund as local heroes. Their story traveled quickly to the Egan Maritime Institute, which chose to recognize these friends with the Lifesavers Recognition Day Award at their yearly celebration held on September 11th.
“Lifesaving is really the best of who we are as Nantucketers,” explains Jessica Guff, vice president of the Egan Maritime Institute and chair of the Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum Advisory Committee. “It’s a really proud tradition. With Joe Tormay, you have somebody to whom Nantucket is his adopted home. A Nantucketer will always come to the aid of a party in trouble at sea.” Meanwhile, Joe Tormay isn’t much for all the hero talk. “It’s one of those things,” he says with a shy smile. “You’re just being a good Samaritan. That’s it. If you were in their situation, you would want someone to do the same thing.”