The Star-News


Fisherman wants someone to thank

Tue, Aug 16 2011 12:00 PM Posted By: Allison K. Sampite

All his family wants to do is find and thank them for saving his life.

Pius "Pete" Zuger was one of 27 passengers and 17 crew members aboard a fishing boat called the Erik, which left San Francisco's port for San Felipe, Mexico July 2.

He and other survivors were assisted by a Chula Vista family after they struggled to shore, but he doesn't know the family's identity. He shared his story hoping that they'll come forward for a well deserved thank you.

The fishing trip quickly turned harrowing for Zuger, 73, and 12 of his close friends when the Erik was capsized in the Sea of Cortez.

Ironically, their destination was Guardian Angel Island.

But they never made it.

"I woke up around 12:30 Sunday morning when the boat started rolling side to side," Zuger said.

Forty to 45-knot winds told him that if the weather got any worse, the captain should turn the boat to avoid the storm. But they stayed on course.

Zuger said he saw waves 10 to 15 feet high. An hour later Zuger was awakened by his friend Jim Miller.

"He said, 'Get up, we're sinking!'"

Zuger's best friend Joe Beeler was in the back of the cabin, when the ship began listing some 40 degrees.

"I said to Joe, 'We don't have any life rescue,'" Zuger said. "We need to go we don't have time."

Zuger and Beeler jumped in the pitch black, raging waters. Then they were separated.

Zuger knew he'd have to find some kind of floating device.

After a few attempts, Zuger got ahold of an ice chest.

Evenntually Zuger saw a 20-foot panga, a boat fishermen use to go out on and swam toward it.

"I noticed there was another person. It was my friend Joe," Zuger said.

The two began bailing water out of the half sunken panga. Zuger eventually opened up his ice chest to find two life vests and one bottle of water.

"We blew up the vests just enough to keep us afloat," he said. They saved the water.

They rode the tide in toward shore but nearly a half-mile from it, the tide went back out.

"It was disheartening to see there was nothing we could do," Zuger said.

"By about 10 a.m. we knew no distress calls had gone out," Zuger said. "No flares, no SOS. Nobody knew the ship had sunk."

Then a miracle happened. They saw several more people and ice chests.

"We hollered to each other," Zuger said. They pulled each other on the boat.

The men shared the bottle of water, each taking a swig. Everyone used the lids of the ice chests as paddles to steer the boat.

"For two and a half hours we paddled like hell," Zuger said. "By about 4 p.m. ... When we finally hit land, everyone just collapsed."

Zuger and Beeler walked some 30 minutes to the closest house.

A man who was with his family answered the door.

He asked the man to use his Jeep to pick up the others.

"They were the most gracious people," Zuger said. "They gave us water and asked if we needed clothes. The woman of the house came out with an octopus cevichŽ. It tasted like manna from heaven."

Zuger believes the family was in Mexico vacationing while away from their Chula Vista home.

"I prayed," he said. "I was thankful to be alive."

The survivors were flown to San Felipe and taken to a hospital. Then they went back to the motel they stayed in the night before.

The men used a hotel landline to phone their families. It was Monday, the fourth of July.

It's been six weeks and two of Zuger's friends are still missing. Russ, who Zuger was close to and another buddy Sean.

"We hoped for four days but there is no way to survive in this part of Mexico," he said, "...Everyday is 105, 110-degree heat and eventually there would be sharks around there-hammerheads."

Zuger said that being rescued by the family in Chula Vista was euphoric.

"I would like to visit and thank them again for their hospitality," Zuger said.

Zuger's daughter Anna Marie, said her family simply wants to show their appreciation for taking her father and the others in. "It's important for us to find them and thank them," she said.


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