Local waters were a passion for fisherman who died on the Broad River

achristnovich@beaufortgazette.comDecember 27, 2012 

Martin Luther Stewart Sr. felt "blessed" to make his living on the river.

He died there Wednesday after the 19-foot skiff he was on with fellow fisherman Vincent Chaplin capsized.

Sea Eagle Market owner Craig Reaves, who hired Stewart a few months ago, recalled gathering oysters with him last Sunday.

"He looked at me and said 'you know most people go to work because they have to. Me and you are blessed because we get to do something we love.'"

"He'd been in the river his whole life," Reaves said. "That's what he loved and that was his passion."

Stewart, whose nickname was "M.L.," and Chaplin, both 44, were on the Broad River Wednesday evening gathering oysters when the ship went over.

"Conditions were pretty rough," Sgt. Michael Thomas, a spokesman for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, said Thursday. "We do believe circumstances with the high wind and rough water contributed to the incident."

Temperatures Wednesday were in the 40s with winds between 30 and 40 mph.

Stewart, of Hilton Head Island, died of hypothermia and drowning, according to Beaufort County Coroner Ed Allen. Chaplin, of St. Helena Island, was saved by Beaufort Water Search & Rescue Squad and rushed to Beaufort Memorial Hospital for treatment of hypothermia. He was released Thursday.

The men had gone out about 1:30 p.m., Reaves said. They were supposed to be back at the Broad River boat landing by 5 p.m. When they hadn't returned by 6:30 p.m., Reaves reported them missing, according to a report from the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.

Scott Jennings of the search and rescue team, said the boat likely capsized between 4-5 p.m. It was carrying 25 bushels of oysters.

"It was still daylight when they decided it was time to cross back over (the river)," he said. "They put their life jackets on... the boat flipped when they decided to cross."

Initially, the men tried to swim to shore, but were driven back to the boat by the wind and water, Jennings said.

The boat drifted across the river and rescuers found Chaplin clinging to the hull at 7:15 p.m.

The boat was about a quarter of a mile from the Laurel Bay boat landing, Jennings said.

Chaplin told rescuers that Stewart lost consciousness and drifted away. His body was found about 75 yards from the boat at about 7:15 p.m., Jennings said. It was recovered about 11:35 p.m. after a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter was called in to assist.

The Department of Natural Resources is currently leading the investigation, but because the incident involved a commercial fishing boat, it could be turned over to the Coast Guard, Thomas said.

Reaves said Stewart's death has left the commercial fishing industry shaken.

But despite that shock and the danger that is always part of a life lived on the water, even Chaplin will return to the river.

"We had to chuckle a little bit because (he) called in at about 8 a.m. this (Thursday) morning and said he wasn't going to be able to make it in today," Reaves said.

"He said he's going to be here tomorrow."

Even Stewart will remain connected to the river.

His brother John said Thursday eveing that M.L. has written out his final wishes several years ago.

He asked that he be cremated and his ashes spread over the water.

Follow reporter Anne Christnovich twitter.com/IPBG_Anne.

Related content:

1 fisherman dead, 1 in hospital after boat capsized on Broad River, Dec. 26, 2012

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