STORRS -- As students return to class at UConn this week, one is glad to be alive. Just about a month ago, Megan Potter and her family were in the middle of the Bering Sea off Alaska, watching their boat sink behind them.
Megan spent two months at sea this summer with her mom, dad, brother and friend on their boat “The Ambition.”
For decades, her father, Corey Potter, has been traveling along Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. The draw is Bristol Bay, a major salmon fishery. His job is to take the fish from small fishing boats to the cannery on the Alaskan shore. For the past few years, Megan has been coming along.
“It helps pay for college so I mainly do it for the money, and also it’s a good break from everything,” she said. “It’s not normal life, you’re living on a boat, limited space, you can’t leave, you’re always on the water.”
While on the boat in July, Megan’s brother woke her up from a nap to an unexpected incident.
Her dad had a hunch something was wrong, and he was right. When the siblings went to the back deck, they noticed the boat starting to list to one side.
“One minute you're sitting there taking a nap about to have dinner, just normal, and the next thing you're looking at your boat sinking,” she said.
The family tried to set up a pump in case they needed to pump out water, but it was too late, and they couldn’t figure out where the leak was coming from. The boat was taking on too much water.
“I could tell it wasn’t gonna end well,” Megan said. “My dad made the first mayday call and once you make a mayday call you’re for sure going down.”
Megan said she wasn’t worried for her life, she trusted in her father’s experience to get them through this crisis.
“Any time there’s an emergency he knows what to do,” she said. “The person I looked to immediately when we were sinking was him and I felt confident that he could get us out.”
The family got into survival suits, to brave the frigid Alaskan waters.
Luckily two boats were in the area including, “The Star Watcher.” It was coming to the rescue but it couldn’t get close.
“A sinking boat creates a whirlpool,” she said. “Anything around it will get dragged in.”
The family had to jump in the cold water and swim to the boat. Megan could see her family members get on one-by-one, but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t move and was stuck near the whirlpool.
“All the sudden it was like a treadmill, I kept swimming and I wasn’t going anywhere,” she said. “At that point I started to freak out.”
Luckily, The Star Watcher was able to get a life line to her, and pull her in. She said she landed face first on the deck, turned around and couldn’t believe she was watching her family’s boat sink behind her taking with it 180-thousand pounds of salmon, and all their personal belongings, laptops, cameras, paperwork, etc.
The rescue boat took the family to False Pass where they stayed for nearly a week until a plane came to their rescue.
The family was able to return safely to their home in Vermont.
Although the image of her boat sinking is hard to erase from her mind, Megan said it’s not holding her family back from a summer at sea, next year. They’ve already started looking at boats and picking out colors.
“I’ve just learned to have a new perspective on everything,” she said.