OLD SAYBROOK -- Looking back on it now, the Emanuelson family from Old Saybrook says it still feels surreal.
Late Wednesday morning, Darrell, his wife Heather, and their children Lucas, 7, and Holly, 4, took their new 13-foot sailboat out for the first time.
Darrell said, “We decided to go sailing for an hour or two to go see the lighthouse.”
But the family never made it there. The winds were too strong and the waves were too high. Their boat began taking on water, then started to go down.
Heather Emanuelson explained, “The boat wouldn't turn. It started to dip to the side as we were turning and each time it dipped it took on a little bit of water. I think it was the third time that it dipped, the water just rushed in and the boat went down, and we were just in the water all of a sudden.”
The family had life jackets and they’re good swimmers. But no matter how hard they tried to swim toward shore, they weren’t getting any closer. With no boats in the area, they made a tough decision.
“Darrell and I are passing the kids back and forth between each other and just realizing that we can't swim while we're holding the kids. So we made the decision that we have to do something, so we split up,” explained Heather, who was a lifeguard when she was younger.
“Darrell was strong enough to hold both of the kids and keep them safe and floating, while I tried to swim to shore,” she said.
She started swimming toward White Sands Beach in Old Lyme. She was able to flag down a boat on her way that helped get her closer to shore.
“I met the lifeguard and a bunch of amazing people on the beach that called 911,” she said.
“That's when the panic hit me because then I'm just thinking to myself, ‘Ok, I'm ok, but where are they?’ I had no idea where they were out there. My kids and my husband were somewhere out there and I could see all the rescue boats and first responders out there looking.”
Darrell and the kids spent around 3 1/2 hours in the water slowly trying to make their own way toward shore.
He said, “There really wasn't much concept of time. It was like, ‘Let's just keep kicking.’”
Eventually they too found a boat that brought them to Miami Beach in Old Lyme, where the whole family reunited at Lenny's on the Beach restaurant.
One day later, they're sore and tired, but they’re safe. And yes, they plan to sail again too.