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Plymouth whale watch ship was hit by ‘rogue wave,’ captain says

A captain on a whale watching ship that encountered rough waters off Plymouth Wednesday said his vessel was hit by a “rogue wave.”

“I’ve been a captain for 46 years, and I haven’t been in that situation,” Captain Bob Avila said Thursday in a telephone interview. “It was an uncommon wave.”

Avila, who was aboard the Captain John & Son II to relieve the acting captain if necessary, said the wave rocked the ship from right to left. Standing passengers banged their heads on benches and seated passengers fell off the benches, he said.

The ship was carrying 109 students and teachers from an upstate New York high school, along with six crew members. Seven students and one crew member suffered minor injuries, Avila said. They were taken to a local hospital and released Wednesday night.


The incident occurred at about 5 p.m. as the whale watchers returned from Stellwagen Bank east of Cape Cod Bay, where they had seen 20 to 30 whales feeding and rising above the water, Avila said. Sea conditions were relatively calm when the ship left at 2 p.m., but winds soon picked up.

“On our way in, we just had some spray,” Avila said. “But on the way out, there was wind from the north and tide from the south, which makes for more and rougher waves.”

The crew reported that the vessel had encountered six- to eight-foot seas and 20-knot winds, Coast Guard spokeswoman Petty Officer MyeongHi Clegg said Wednesday.

“Some of the kids, naturally, got scared,” Avila said, “and then it was a chain reaction.”

There was no way to prevent the incident, according to Avila.

“It’s not like we hit anything. We just took a rogue wave,” he said.

The ship returned to Plymouth Harbor at about 6:30 p.m., Robert Bechtold, an assistant harbormaster, said Wednesday. It was not damaged.


Captain John Whale Watching & Fishing Tours, the Plymouth-based company that owns the vessel, bills itself on its website as the “area’s most experienced and continuously operated whale watch company.”

On some trips, the company sends two captains, in case one needs to be relieved.

Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Aneri Pattani can be reached at aneri.pattani@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @apattani95.