The man, identified by the Coast Guard and Westport Harbormaster Richie Earle as Andrew Guilbeault, 26, of New Bedford, had been camping on Gooseberry when, at about 2:30 in the morning, he decided to swim out to Southwest Rock to do some fishing.
“He made it out there — it’s about 200 or 300 yards — and climbed up on the rock,” Mr. Earle said. With him the man had brought a fishing rod, thermos bottle and small pack.
After fishing for awhile the man set out for shore but quickly found himself working against the current. “He wasn’t making any progress and instead lay on his back … The wetsuit really saved him” with the flotation and protection from chilly water that it provided. Water temperatures were estimated to be just over 60 degrees.
In the meantime, Mr. Guilbeault’s girlfriend, who had been camping with him, became concerned when he didn’t return in two hours as he had said he would. At about 5:15 a.m. she called Westport Police via 911, and they dispatched an officer. Together they walked around the point but could see nothing.
Also notified after the 911 call were Harbormaster Earle and the Coast Guard, which dispatched a helicopter from Air Station Cape Cod, a 45-foot fast response boat from Castle Hill in Newport and a 47-footer from Menemsha — “all the bells and whistles,” Mr. Earle said.
Mr. Earle and Assistant Harbormaster Gary Tripp arrived about a half hour later. Fishing nearby was the Westport lobster boat TNT with Brian Tripp aboard. He said he had seen nothing but would help in the search. The Coast Guard boats worked the outer rocks beyond Hens and Chickens while the smaller harbormaster boat searched the inner channel.
“Fortunately visibility and sea conditions were good but even so it is hard to spot someone in a dark wetsuit,” Mr. Earle said, adding that there are lots of other objects on the sea surface there including lobster pots, rocks and birds.
They had looked for nearly 45 minutes when Gary Tripp saw something that turned out to be Mr. Guilbeault’s feet sticking up above the surface.
“We went over and pulled him aboard” at about 6:20 a.m. “He seemed tired but okay — pretty quiet,” Mr. Earle said. The Coast Guard and a Westport EMT back on shore checked him out and determined that he did not need hospital care.
“He was lucky that he was in that inside channel” and not outside around Hens and Chickens, “where the current really swirls around and might have taken him a lot further. He was in the water for a long time, three hours.”