September 29, 1969 dawned grey and overcast over Montauk Point with a light southeast breeze. It had been blowing easterly for three days and the surf was dirty and full of seaweed and kelp. There were in those days – some 50 years ago – a group of us who fished Montauk at night in 14- to 16-foot aluminum boats powered by 25-horsepower outboards. We were referred to as the “tin boat fleet.” Men like Frank Braddock, Marty Beer, Gunard Bergman, Dick Olcott, Jack Frech, Don Baker, Jack Hone, a few others and myself.
On this particular evening, we had been beached for three days and were a getting a bit antsy to get at least one night of fishing out of the weekend. At 7 p.m. the tide was topping out and the sea had settled down nicely. Gunard came onto the CB radio and announced he was going to launch. Soon, a caravan of six buggies trailing aluminum boats was headed down East Lake Drive. We usually launched along Gin Beach and hung lanterns on our side-view mirrors to help us find our trucks in the dark.
Don Baker, Jack Hone and I launched my 16-foot Star Craft about a 1/2 mile west of Shagwong Point and headed east across Clarks Cove to North Bar. The drill was to troll large swimming plugs on wire line through the rips between the west side of North Bar and Jones Reef. On this occasion we let our plugs back and began our familiar trolling run. As we came around False Bar, I could see swells rolling across Jones Reef so I cut the run short. I came about and as I straightened out and headed back northwest, Don Baker, who was seated in the bow yelled, “Hey Moge, look behind you!” I glanced to my stern and low and behold, here came a 10- to 12-foot rogue wave out of the dark. The wave broke over our stern, washing Jack and me out of the boat. Don remained in the boat but the motor was drowned, and the boat was half full of water so he was not able to get back to us.
My first thought as I was being tumbled by this big wave was “this can’t be happening to us.” As I surfaced, my lifeguard training came back to me. I shed my heavy woolen LIBBA jacket, kicked off my knee boots and got rid of my garrison belt and tackle bag. I looked behind me and Jack was swimming towards me at a slow crawl. Thank God the tide was high slack or at some point far into the future we would have been gazing at the White Cliffs of Dover. I could see the Montauk Lighthouse to our southwest, so using that as a beacon, we began swimming to the west.
After about 20 minutes, Jack told me he was too tired to continue so I turned around to put him in a cross-chest carry. As I turned my foot, I felt a rock. We had caught the east end of Jones Reef. I yelled the good news to Jack, adding “God is good, God is great,” and thanked him for those rocks. As Jack and I waded out of the surf on Jones Reef, we found that Don had very skillfully managed to “surf” my boat to the only stretch of sand between False Bar and Jones Reef. He later claimed we looked like a couple of ghosts arising out of the sea. He and a group of surfcasters had notified the Coast Guard by CB and were standing around trying to figure out how to tell our wives we were gone. With five children involved, it would not have been an easy task.
We returned to Jack’s camper parked in the lower lot and dried out with a bottle of Jack Daniels. We vowed then to never tell our wives about our mishap. When I arrived home, I put my tin boat up for sale and bought a 17-foot Boston Whaler, never to venture outside of Great South Bay in anything under 30 feet.
Editor’s Note: Blair Moger was a lifelong resident of Long Island before relocating to Florida in 1997. He was director of counseling services for the East Islip School District, and my high school guidance counselor. He obviously did a good job steering me on my career path. He was a longtime member of the Great South Bay Anglers, a member of LIBBA’s Board of Directors and a founder of Save Our Stripers. Blair is now 82 years young. He needs a walker to get around but has devised a way to equip it with balloon tires and two rodholders so that he can soak bait on Honeymoon Island.