LIHUE — Three people, including a 10-year-old boy and a man with a broken femur, managed to swim safely ashore in the middle of the night after spending four hours on a capsized fishing boat off Kauai’s Westside Sunday.
The boat’s owner and captain Zack Romanak, of Port Allen, said Monday he could care less about the vessel — that everyone making it out alive was all that mattered.
Romanak had been fishing near Niihau Sunday with his son Noah and Brad Warren, a visitor from California whom he met earlier that day. He was attempting to steer the 19-foot Alii Kai boat back into Kikiaola Small Boat Harbor around 8 p.m. when a large wave hit the rear end, twisting it sideways, filling it with water and throwing him and his passengers into the ocean.
The wave’s impact sent Warren flying, shattering his femur in three places and breaking his prosthetic hip when he landed. He described the pain as the worst he’s ever felt.
“And I’ve had kidney stones,” he said, sitting in a hospital bed at Wilcox Memorial Hospital Monday awaiting surgery, his voice hoarse from screaming. “I’ve had three separate kidney stones, and this is absolutely worse than a kidney stone.”
Warren joked that his screams — and prayers — could likely be heard in Tahiti.
Romanak and his son suffered no injuries. The captain said he was able to swim back into the vessel to retrieve the two life vests he could still find in the dark. He put them on his son and Warren and the three were able to swim out of the boat and climb on top of the portion still above water.
Romanak said he felt the safest move was to stay with the boat, wait it out until morning if they had to, when he was sure someone would spot them. Warren, however, couldn’t stand the pain. Each wave that crashed into the boat also hit his mangled leg, and at least a half dozen times he went flying into the water.
Warren said he felt like a bowling ball.
“It got to a point to where I couldn’t even climb up anymore,” he said.
That’s when he thought it might be all over, that his life might end. While he had the will to survive, he was exhausted. He thought his only chance of survival was to make a swim for shore.
“I was laying on my back and right when I was thinking that a shooting star, longest one dude, it just went shooooooo,” he said, gesturing an arching flight with his hand.
If that wasn’t sign enough, Warren said 10-year-old Noah then told the men to listen. On the horizon the men could hear the Journey song “Don’t Stop Believin’” coming from a party at the boathouse on shore.
After hours of praying together, the men made their move. Warren held onto Noah, Noah held onto his father. And the three men made their way into the dark, murky water, with thoughts racing through their heads about getting caught in a current, large waves, even attacked by a shark.
Romanak said he estimated it would take them to at least two hours to get to land.
“We went for it, and within a half an hour, we were on the shore,” Romanak said.
Once on shore, Romanak ran for help, borrowed a cellphone and called 911. At least 10 people from the party came to assist.
Warren said one man told him it was miracle that he survived four hours in his condition out in the water.
“He goes, ‘You made it through that, dude … You can make it through this,’” he said. “And he picks me up.”
Warren screamed again in pain.
County spokeswoman Sarah Blane said that the Kauai Fire Department responded to the Kekaha Harbor shortly after midnight after receiving a report that a 54-year-old man had suffered a possible broken leg. All three were on land when firefighters arrived at the harbor.
Romanak’s boat was later found.
On Monday morning, Mel Wills, operations manager at Holoholo Charters, said one of his captains came across the sunken vessel one-mile offshore from the Kekaha Sugar Mill.
“Interestingly enough, while he was checking out that vessel and looking for any debris or survivors, that kind of stuff — we were talking to the Coast Guard — a humpback whale surfaced,” Wills said. “The first one of the season.”
Romanak said he could not be prouder of his son, who remained calm, cool and collected through it all.
“And he’s not just saying that because it’s a father-son relationship,” Warren added. “It’s because he was an absolute rock star.”
Romanak said the incident was the result of his own misjudgment, that he should have known better than to try to make it into the harbor in such high surf conditions.
Despite Romanak getting him into the situation, Warren called the captain his hero.
“He saved my life,” he said.
Chris D’Angelo, environment writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or email@example.com