PORTSMOUTH, Va. -- A New Jersey couple and their schooner were towed into port Tuesday, five days after tropical storm Dennis vented its fury on them, picking up the vessel and rolling it over in the ocean.
Egon and Gertrude Wenzel had spent a harrowing 24 hours rolling in mountainous seas aboard the 34-foot Alte Liebe, fearing at times that they would die.
'Thank God for the Coast Guard airplane,' said Mrs. Wenzel, her head still scarred from the experience. 'That was the most beautiful sight. The second most beautiful sight was the (cutter) Reliance.'
The Wenzels sailed out of Stamford, Conn. last week for a three-week cruise along the eastern seaboard, a vacation from their Bergen County bakery shop.
Last Tuesday, the weather reports signaled clear sailing until Friday. But upredictable Dennis scooted off the North Carolina coast and steamed with all its fury into the Wenzels' path Thursday morning, passing within 15 miles of their sailboat.
'It was so unexpected,' Mrs. Wenzel said. 'It came up so fast.'
The Wenzels hooked up their safety harnesses just a half-hour before the seas started to boil with 40-foot waves.
The Alte Liebe capsized, making a 360-degree roll in the Atlantic, 300 miles northeast of Virginia Beach.
'The boat just rolled up and over,' Mrs. Wenzel said. 'We were steering but it didn't do any good. We were under water. Then, all of a sudden, we were above water.'
The Wenzels battened down the hatches, sealed themselves inside the cabin of the sleek craft -- and prayed.
Mrs. Wenzel's head was bleeding; her husband's shoulder felt like it was broken. Nevertheless, they persevered and attempted to make radio contact with the Coast Guard.
Thursday night, a Coast Guard C-130 spotted the sailboat but lost it again as darkness enveloped the seas. The next morning, the Wenzels were able to establish radio contact and guided the aircraft and the Reliance to their position.
Coast Guardsmen slowly worked their way toward the Alte Liebe in a 25-man life raft and boarded the sailboat. The Wenzels were rescued.
'They were in good health,' said Lt. Cmdr. Steve Cornell, executive officer of the Reliance. 'But they were banged up pretty good - and they were exhausted.'