This Father and Son Saved a Fisherman After He Fell Overboard

There was no one aboard the pleasure craft that almost T-boned them. So a father and son went fishing for answers.

A fisherman and his son standing on a dock with fish they caughtCourtesy Andrew Sherman
Jack (left) and Andrew Sherman caught more than fish that day.

It was 11:30 a.m., and the fishing so far had been a bust. Still, floating on the water 40 miles off the North Carolina coast was a great way to spend a lazy July day. Calm seas, clear skies, hint of a breeze. Not another boat in sight. Until now. Andrew Sherman, a 50-year-old investment adviser from Roanoke, Virginia, spotted a speck on the horizon. As the speck approached, it started to look like a boat. “Jack,” he yelled to his son, a 21-year-old U.S. Naval Academy midshipman, “some yahoo’s headed straight at us!”

Unbelievable. Miles of open ocean, and this idiot was on course to T-bone them. Andrew steered their boat up a couple of lengths just as the interloper whizzed by their stern. The Shermans stared incredulously. Four fishing lines out, music blaring—your average recreational fishing craft, except there wasn’t a soul in sight. The idiot must have gone below, leaving his boat cruising along at 10 mph.

“Follow it, Jack,” Andrew said.

As Jack hit the gas, Andrew gave several blasts on an air horn. “Hey! Hey!” the Shermans shouted. Nothing. A horrifying new thought took shape: The captain had gone below, all right—and suffered a heart attack.

A ghost boat

Father and son switched places, and Andrew maneuvered their boat alongside the other while Jack leaped onto the other boat’s deck. He turned the ignition, bringing the boat to a stop. Then he ventured down into the cabin. He came back up a moment later. “Empty,” he said.

Stunned, father and son said in unison, “It’s a ghost boat!”

Andrew called the Coast Guard. “Man overboard,” he told them, then supplied the coordinates. The two men could have left it at that, but they were curious: What happened to the captain? Locating the boat’s GPS system, they searched its history log. The missing captain had marked points along his route indicating good fishing spots. Then the points abruptly stopped a few miles back.

QUOTE: The ghost boat's owner was alive in the water and growing weary.

With Andrew piloting the ghost boat and Jack driving their own craft, they headed for that last point. From there, the two boats made ever-enlarging circles for the next hour. “I ran north a bit, then south. And then I ran back up north again, and then south again,” says Andrew. They were searching for what he feared would be a body. What they didn’t know was that the ghost boat’s owner was alive in the water and growing weary.

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Searching for the captain

Two hours earlier, Sascha Scheller, a construction contractor, had been fishing for mahi-mahi when nature called. He leaned over the starboard side to relieve himself, zipped up, turned back toward the helm, and slipped. Suddenly he was in the water.

He grasped at the boat, but the smooth hull went gliding along his palms. He grabbed wildly for the swim ladder, but it slipped between his fingers. In dumbstruck horror, he watched his boat zoom off, taking his life jacket with it. His only hope was to paddle three miles back to where he’d last seen other boats.

When Scheller eventually spotted a vessel in the distance, it appeared to be maneuvering oddly—coming straight at him, then turning suddenly and heading back out. It made no sense. Nevertheless, this was his best chance at being saved. He began to kick wildly, making the biggest splashes possible. “The next thing you know,” he says, “the boat doesn’t turn away. It aims right at me.”

Only when it sidled up to him did it dawn on Scheller: “That’s my boat!”

“You have no idea how happy I am to see you,” Andrew Sherman said, hauling him aboard. Other than leg cramps, Scheller was fine. He’d been saved from drowning and was grateful the Shermans had taken the time to search for him. Other boaters had heard the call to the Coast Guard on their radios, he says, but only “the Shermans stayed on the scene.”

That evening, when he got home, Andrew’s wife asked him how his day had gone. “It was a slow day catching fish,” he told her. “But we did catch a man.”

Next, see how this teacher saved a grandmother’s life, thanks to virtual schooling.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest