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In This Place

The Wreck of the 'Josephia'


MARCH 2006. This morning at about 4 a.m. the Josephia, a 39-foot scallop vessel out of Stoughton, Maine, went aground just north of the old Eastham Coast Guard station, breaking up and forcing its two-man crew—Michael Darragh, 34, and his brother-in-law Ian Orchard, 32—along with Orchard’s one-year-old pug Leo, to swim for shore in high seas and 38° water. Miraculously, all three made it ashore alive.

Darragh was found by Sgt. Robert Schutzer of the Eastham Police Department, who was patrolling the beach in the pre-dawn dark, after having been alerted by the Coast Guard of a vessel in distress. Schutzer said he spotted Darragh by the reflection of his flashlight on Darragh’s life vest “less than a mile away.” He was “soaking and freezing,” but alive. Darragh was holding Leo, whom he had found safe, though “with a bit of water in her lungs.”

A search for Orchard then ensued, involving the Coast Guard, the National Park Service, a helicopter and emergency personnel from Orleans, Eastham, Wellfleet, and Truro, but after four hours there was no sign of the missing man. Then Sgt. Schutzer noticed a broken window just to the right of the porch of the empty former Coast Guard station. The rescue team went inside. There they found Orchard, who had broken in, stood under a hot shower “for a long time,” wrapped himself in a window curtain, and “passed out from exhaustion.” Ironically, the Coast Guard station, though decommissioned over a half-century ago, had nonetheless played a direct role in saving one of the men by serving as a kind of oversized Charity Hut with running hot water.

The police called Orchard’s wife (who is ALSO Darragh’s sister) in Maine. She said that when she heard her husband’s voice, “He sounded awesome, he said it was really scary.” Darragh was described in the Boston Globe’s account of the wreck as “an urchin diver.” He had gone south into Cape waters with his brother-in-law Ian in search of scallops, hoping to make up for a poor urchin season in Maine that had resulted from “bad weather and overfishing,” according to his mother, Dawn Gray. At that time Chatham scallopers were getting $9-$10 a pound.

Curiously, this was Darragh’s third life-threatening accident in the last few years. Two years earlier, he and his wife Laura were forced to jump into the ocean when his boat went aground at Bar Harbor, and the previous winter, according to the story in The Boston Globe, “while he was sleeping in his house in Maine, a wood burning stove caught fire. He managed to crawl out his bedroom window as the fire engulfed the house.” A photo accompanying the story showed him and Orchard “presumably” at Orchard’s wedding. In the photo Darragh is a good-looking chap with a clean-shaven face, but, given his history, he doesn’t sound like a good bet. Still, his mother said that both men are likely to return to the sea. “I’d rather they didn’t, but I’ll just pray them through.”