Captain collapses; tourist steers

Jason Bosley was relaxing on the ferry to Hatteras after a long day of windsurfing on Ocracoke Island. The sky was inky black, and 35 mph winds whipped up the water in Hatteras Inlet. A crew member suddenly shouted that the captain was down.

With his experience in first aid, Bosley rushed to the Cape Point's wheelhouse, where he found the captain unconscious. No one was at the boat's controls.

“At that point in time, it was instinctive to take the wheel, at least to keep the ferry in the channel,” Bosley said Wednesday. The Sept. 19 incident is being investigated by the Coast Guard.

While two other passengers with medical experience worked on captain Lowell Schroder, Bosley took the helm. Fortunately for the approximately 60 passengers on the vessel, Bosley, 35, is a licensed boat pilot.

He knows boats, he said, but he didn't know the shallow channel with its ever-changing shoals. Fortunately, another ferry was approaching.

Veteran captain Ronnie Van O'Neal was hitching a ride on the ferry Thomas A. Baum when the radio crackled. A voice on the Cape Point hailed the Baum. “He said, ‘I'm running the ferry, but I don't know where I'm going,'” O'Neal said.

While Bosley slowed down and held the Cape Point steady, O'Neal leaped onto the Cape Point. He dashed to the wheelhouse, switched on the floodlights and took the helm from Bosley.

O'Neal shrugged off a suggestion that his jump was heroic, saying it is just something you have to do sometimes when you're on boats. He credited Bosley for his cool head.

Schroder, 64, was pronounced dead in Hatteras, apparently of a heart attack.

“The tourists more or less took over,” O'Neal said. “It was just lucky for the people that somebody was there who knew how to hold a boat in the wind. He's saved people's lives, in my opinion.”