Clamdigger rows to the rescue

The storm surprised Gerald Tyson. One minute, he was a happy fisherman in a rented City Island skiff. The next, Tyson was a frightened Manhattanite in rough water. When a monster wave hit, Tyson and the skiff went vertical.

“The boat went down immediately,” he said. “I had my floatation device on but didn’t know to push away. So there I was, hugging the boat and yelling for help.”

Tyson was some 300 feet off shore and in shock on Friday, July 31 when a handful of City Island residents burst onto the scene. John Tomsen, a 43-year old electrician, glimpsed Tyson through the fog.

“I yelled to my wife, ‘Get the key to the shed!’ She brought the oars and two life jackets,” Tomsen said. “My neighbor helped me launch the rowboat. I rowed out and grabbed [Tyson].”

Tomsen didn’t think twice before heading into the storm.

“It was a reaction,” he said. “I’ve lived on the water my whole life. I’ve had that rowboat since I was four years old.”

Tyson took up fishing six months ago. He loves the sport.

“I went to City Island maybe fives times and was successful,” Tyson said. “[On July 31] I mapped out a route. I was on the east side of the island when someone at Jack’s Bait called to say that a storm was coming.”

Tyson chuckled.

“It looked pretty mild and sunny on the side I was on,” he said. “It didn’t look like a storm was coming.”

Tyson packed up and headed to the west side of the island.

“I turned the corner,” Tyson said. “There was a big difference. The water was rough and rugged. It looked like a typhoon.”

Tyson didn’t think that anyone would hear him yell. He couldn’t see the shore. Tyson was ready to give in when he heard a voice.

“I turned around and [Tomsen] was wrassling with a little dinghy,” Tyson said. “He reached out to me and said, ‘Don’t panic.’ He grabbed me and I saw the boat sink.”

Tomsen didn’t haul Tyson on board. He had the frightened man hold onto the rowboat.

“I rowed in,” Tomsen said. “I talked. I asked his name. I tried to keep him calm.”

Tomsen and Tyson were 30 feet away off shore when a Ladder 53 firefighter, Ralph Manfredonia, stripped down and swam to the rowboat. Manfredonia dragged Tyson in. The exhausted Manhattanite collapsed on the sand and was wrapped in a warm blanket.

“Thank goodness John had the rowboat,” City Island resident Rich Dillon said. “I was out there thinking, ‘What the hell am I going to do?’ It was too far to swim.”

The fire department transported a shivering Tyson to Jacobi hospital. He sustained no serious injuries. Tomsen rowed out again to retrieve Tyson’s fishing pole.

“Physically, I’m okay,” Tyson shared a week later. “Psychologically…”

Tyson, who has two young daughters, wants to meet Tomsen and Manfredonia under happier circumstances. He thanked the seaman and the firefighter.

“I would love to take them to dinner,” Tyson said.

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