For many saltwater anglers, there are few fears worse than being stranded in the ocean. Being both stranded and injured at night, however, may just take the cake. For more than four hours on Sunday, Zack Romanak hung on to the floating underside of his boat off the coast of Niihau, alongside his 10-year-old son Noah and friend Brad Warren. The three anglers had been fishing in the area when a powerful wave struck the 19-foot boat and caused it to capsize. In the chaos, Warren was flung into the side of the boat, shattering both his femur and prosthetic hip.
“I tilted my head back to get another last gulp of air and a swell pushed the boat. I took a big gulp of water and started going down. It was scary,” Warren told KITV.
He described it as the worst pain he ever felt. Warren may have died if it was not for Romanak, who went back inside the flooded vessel to retrieve two life jackets. He put one on Warren and the other on his son. The three then clambered aboard the section of the boat that was still floating and made a decision. They were not far from shore and Romanak estimated that it would take them perhaps two hours to swim back to shore. However, rough waters, darkness, and Warren’s injuries meant that swimming back to shore was a riskier venture than Romanak would like to take. The three decided to stay aboard the capsized ship until morning, when rescue would hopefully come. From the distant shore they could hear faint music from party-goers, but had no way to signal them.
The hours of waiting on the rocking boat took a toll on the anglers, especially Warren. Every wave that hit the boat jostled the injured man, and he told The Island Garden that he was thrown into the water at least half a dozen times. Physically drained and in excruciating pain, Warren says that he eventually stayed off the boat entirely.
“It got to a point to where I couldn’t even climb up anymore,” he said.
The anglers eventually agreed that the best chance for Warren was to make the swim. Even with his mangled leg, Warren managed to keep pace with Romanak and his son as they made the trip back to shore. Surprisingly, the swim only took a quarter of Romanak’s estimated two hours. When they reached the beach, party-goers helped the three exhausted swimmers onto dry land and called 911.
“We were so relieved,” Warren told ABC News. “My wife, my daughters, I wanted to make sure I made it to see them.”
Warren is currently recuperating in a nearby hospital. Local boaters have since recovered Romanak’s ship about one mile offshore from Kekaha Sugar Mill.