3 Texas Boaters Rescued After Week at Sea

James Phillips, center, and Curt Hall, left, two of three fisherman who were rescued after eight days adrift in the Gulf of Mexico, joke around with Phillips' wife Shane Phillips at a homecoming party at the Phillips' home, Aug. 30, 2009, in Blessing, Texas.
AP Photo/Houston Chronicle
Three Texas boaters missing for a week were reunited with their families early Sunday after they were found alive, sitting on top of their capsized catamaran 180 miles from land, the Coast Guard said.

The crew of the Affordable Fantasy spotted the men Saturday night off Port Aransas and rescued them from their 23-foot catamaran, said Petty Officer 3rd Class Renee Aiello. A Coast Guard boat met them and brought them back to land, where emergency management services crews were waiting for them. They declined medical attention.

They were identified as Curtis Hall, 28, of Palacios; Tressel Hawkins, 43, of Markham; and James Phillips, 30, of Blessing, who owned the boat.

The three were reported missing Aug. 22 after they left Matagorda, about 90 miles southwest of Houston, on a fishing trip and never returned. Port Aransas is about 130 miles from Matagorda.

Hall, who spoke Monday morning to Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith, said the trio's troubles seemed to have begun "as soon as we got there."

They went to sleep that Friday night and were awakened by water coming in, said Shane Phillips, whose husband, James, was relaxing Sunday with his five children.

"They tried to start the pumps to get the water out," she told the Houston Chronicle. "They would not start."

Hall told The Early Show that once both the two engines onboard failed, it wasn't long before the twin-hull boat filled with water and capsized.

They fired off three flares hoping to get the attention of workers at a nearby oil rig, but no one responded.

The Coast Guard officials said they survived because they stuck with the boat. The men also rationed bubble gum and crackers and used a hose to suck fresh water out of the internal "washdown" tank. Fishermen often keep such a tank to wash fish slime off their boat when they are out in the salt water.

"It's not the cleanest, not the greatest and it tasted like diesel," Shane Phillips told the newspaper.

The Coast Guard had called off its search Friday after scouring 86,000 square miles of water without finding them, but Phillips told Smith he and his friends never lost hope, "no, never."

"Even though there's nobody out there, there's somebody out there. I always knew we were coming home," he said via satellite from Blessings, Texas on Monday morning. He said the men did a lot of praying during their week-long ordeal.

"Lots of promises were made out there," he told Smith. "I'm gonna hold every one of them."

"It's obvious they had a will to survive, and they did it for seven days," Aiello said late Saturday.

Hall's fiancee, Rebecca Kern, said it was difficult to describe her emotions.

"It's just been a roller coaster of emotions all week, the not knowing, getting upset and fearing for them out there. We weren't going to give up," she said. "We knew they were out there on that boat and we had to bring them home."