For the second time in three weeks, a Maryland waterman has gone missing, his boat found empty and his body later pulled from the water by search crews.
This time, it happened on Slaughter Creek, off the Little Choptank River, on Thursday. The Neck District Volunteer Fire Company says another waterman found a 19′ open Carolina Skiff with no one aboard. The VFC launched a search of the water, along with Taylors Island Volunteer Fire Company, Rescue Fire Company from Cambridge, Church Creek Volunteer Fire Company, the Maryland State Police Trooper 6 helicopter, and Maryland Natural Resources Police. Watermen who heard the call on the radio came in from the Bay to help in the search.
“It’s a strange thing to see a skiff with tongs on it, oysters still on the culling board, and nobody’s there,” Neck District VFC Chief Steve Webster tells Bay Bulletin.
It was a cool but calm day, with the air temperature around 60 but the water temperature was 53 degrees, according to the Neck District’s boat’s instruments. The state police helicopter eventually located the victim, 72-year-old Dale McClain, along a riprap shoreline near a duck blind. The victim’s truck and trailer were still at Ragged Point Marina, where he launched the skiff.
Search and rescue boats, with EMTs aboard, recovered McClain, but he was later pronounced dead. “We always treat it as possible survival, but his body’s core temperature was too low,” the chief explains.
Community members describe McClain as “a local waterman, well known and well loved.”
Chief Webster, who owns Baycraft Marine in Cambridge, had known McClain for years and worked on his boat. “He was a waterman, true at heart. He enjoyed working on the water,” the fire chief says.
The loss of this waterman comes on the heels of another: Doug Hands, 49, a waterman and longtime volunteer firefighter from Cobb Island on the Potomac, went missing from his boat in rough weather Oct. 27. As Bay Bulletin reported, his boat was found empty and his body was later recovered.
Chief Webster says working on the water is risky—and he hopes watermen will take heed. “It’s a dangerous job and a very weather-oriented job. Please be careful.”
-Meg Walburn Viviano