It was to be an escape from Saturday’s heat on Greenwich Bay, a time to enjoy family and cool off. It could have been a disaster with the possible loss of multiple lives. Instead, the quick actions of a 12-year old and the response of strangers saved a family from injury and possibly worse.
Saturday seemed the perfect day for Charles Frigon to take his son Tyler, a 7th grader at Winman Middle School, the “baby” 2-year old Axel, and his girlfriend Kristen Davenport for an afternoon outing on the bay. Leaving from Safe Harbor on Warwick Cove, Frigon opened up his 30-foot Wellcraft cabin cruiser once they had cleared the channel markers off Warwick Neck. He hadn’t taken out the boat for a couple of weeks. It was good to be on the water and it was as if the boat was happy to be free of the dock. Frigon detected nothing that would forecast what would happen that afternoon.
They didn’t have far to go. There was no deadline, no place they had to be. This was downtime, a get-a-way from the heavy heat of the day.
Frigon steered for East Greenwich Harbor and slowed the motors. The wake behind them leveled. Before reaching the red channel marker, Frigon veered to a popular anchorage off the Goddard Park beach.
Tyler, who was introduced to the water at the age of 2 when Charlie took him out on his jet ski, is Charlie’s first mate. He knows the boat. He’s there to guide the craft when docking, securing dock lines and he’s frequently at the helm.
They dropped anchor and cut the engines. They had found what they had come for, an escape – family time. They swam and ate.
Around noon, Charlie figured it was time to get back. Tyler knew what to do. His father turned on the blowers to free the bilge of any gas fumes and started the engines. Tyler took the helm and engine controls, easing the boat forward, so his father on the foredeck could free the anchor and haul it aboard. It was a practiced routine that comes naturally.
Then suddenly there was a pop. Tyler and Charlie looked around. The hatch to the engines within inches of Tyler had been blown off; smoke was billowing from the compartment. Charlie’s first thought was to get everyone off the boat safely. He yelled to Tyler to jump in the water, to get clear of the boat. He raced back to the cabin to see Kristen and Axel up forward in the V-berth.
At first Kristen didn’t know what was happening, but she grabbed Axel. The cabin quickly filled with smoke. The engine was on fire. There wasn’t time to grab life jackets. They had to get off as fast as possible. Charlie held Axel. Kristen jumped in the water. Once she was in water, Charlie handed her “the baby.” She swam clear of the boat and tread water.
Charlie hit the fire with two fire extinguishers.
Tyler’s first action, his father believes, saved the day. He didn’t panic. Instinctively, he shut off the engines. Had he not, the electric fuel pumps would have continued feeding gasoline to the engines.
“I heard the pop and shut off the engines,” Tyler says as if it wasn’t a big deal.
The ordeal didn’t go unnoticed. While boating traffic continued to and from East Greenwich Harbor, one boat – La Bella Vita – came to their aid. Vince and Erica stood off from Frigon’s boat, Trial & Error. Charlie jumped in the water, swimming to Kristen who by this time was tiring. Vince and Erica (Charlie and Kristen have yet to get their full names) helped fish the crew from the water. Once safe, Charlie swam back to his boat with an extinguisher Vince and Erica gave him and doused the engine compartment again.
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard had been alerted.
Charlie contacted them to let them know the fire had been extinguished and everyone was safe. He also put in a call to Safe Sea. They responded immediately and took the Trial & Error in tow to return to the Safe Harbor marina in Warwick Cove. Kristen, Axel and Tyler remained aboard La Bella Vita with Vince and Erica following.
Word spread quickly. A party of marina friends were there to greet them and the hero of the day, Tyler.