The boat was returning from a four-hour fishing trip when it hit the Townsends Inlet bridge and began to take on water.
Beachgoers soaking up the sun near Townsends Inlet were startled by a loud crash.
“I had my head in the book and I hear that – like it was so loud. I was amazed,” said Anna Habel of Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania. “I looked up. My friends were next to me and said, ‘Oh my God, the boat hit the bridge!'”
A chartered fishing boat – the Starfish – had hit the bridge between Sea Isle City and Avalon.
Mike Shirk and his 12-year-old son Blake were among those on board.
“It was pretty scary,” Shirk said. “We were right at the front of the boat and I had my hands around Blake, of course, and kind of braced him against the rail.”
“It was like a loud bang and it shook the whole boat,” Blake said.
The two travel on the water often, and Mike Shirk says the winds and currents were strong on Monday.
Mike says the captain did his best but couldn’t avoid the collision when they went under the bridge.
Soon it was clear that the starfish was taking on water.
“I went to the captain and said, ‘Hey, what can I do to help and support? And then Blake and I handed out life jackets,” Shirk said.
It was Captain Bob Rush, the owner of the Starfish, who got out and got the two dozen or so passengers and crew off the boat before the Coast Guard arrived.
No injuries were reported.
Shirk says there was an 88-year-old woman on board and she was the first to be brought to safety.
Rush would not speak to Action News on Tuesday.
Starfish Boats said in a Facebook post that they hope to repair the boat and run charters again soon.
“We are hopeful, but the boat has damage and will be unusable for some time,” the message read. “All passengers, mate and captain are fine. If you have any scheduled trips coming up, we will contact you one by one, please give us some time to do so. We will be back!”
Shirk says he has childhood memories aboard the Starfish.
“When I was younger than him, I was on the boat with my grandfather,” he said.
Mike and Blake are also grateful that help came so quickly.
“Any time (the captain) was watching a historic ship, a historic piece of Sea Isle City sink, all he cared about was the people on board. And I thought that was amazing,” Shirk said.
Cape May County had inspectors on the bridge Monday night and Tuesday.
Karen Coughlin, executive director of the Cape May County Bridge Commission, said no major structural damage was found and minor repairs could be made without a bridge closure.
The incident is still under investigation by the US Coast Guard.
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