Ocean County Couple Rescues Family From Burning Boat

A boat owned by the Gaskills of Stafford caught fire, and they were rescued by a couple who happened to be at the right place at the right time. (Photos provided by Dawn Spellman-Anastasi and Tom Barrett)

  SHIP BOTTOM – Meeting new friends can come about in a variety of ways but one borough couple met some new friends in a unique way, by rescuing them from a burning boat.

  At around 6:25 p.m. on Aug. 10, Dawn Spellman-Anastasi and her fiancé Tom Barrett of Ship Bottom were cruising home in their boat, a 22-foot Grady-White, having visited friends when they came across smoke near the coastline.

  “I saw a yellow flash of light,” Anastasi said.

  Barrett noticed smoke which he said quickly turned black. “I could smell fiberglass burning. We veered closer but at a safe distance.”

  “I thought the boat was going to blow up. The fire was spreading fast,” Anastasi said.

  The couple observed the boat’s crew, a three-member Stafford family which included John and Kim Gaskill and their 12-year-old daughter Finley. The family quickly jumped off the boat, their 19-foot model Chaparral, and swam for their lives as it became engulfed by flames.

  Anastasi said that she learned the family had just left the Boatyard restaurant in Stafford Township before returning to their vessel and to their home in the Beach Haven West section of Stafford Township.

  John Gaskill said “at first it looked like a small gas leak and I got it to stop.” A boat pump ignited shortly afterward. “My wife and daughter were sitting at the bow of the boat and we saw their (Anastasi/Barrett) boat pass by.”

  Realizing the flames were overcoming his boat, “I said we better get out of here so we evacuated.”

  “They swam to us and we picked them up. Their daughter was very scared. They were all shaken actually. Who wouldn’t be? I was trying to comfort the little girl,” Anastasi added.

  “The New Jersey State Police Marine Division were terrific. They came with three men in two boats and then the Coast Guard came and started spraying down the boat and had it 99% out,” John Gaskill said.

  US Boat Tow arrived early on at the scene and the boat’s captain turned out to be an old friend of John Gaskill. “They also did me a solid and were great,” Gaskill said.

  “It all worked out and thankfully no one was hurt,” Barrett added.

  “Anyone would have done the same. Who wouldn’t help a family in that kind of situation?” Anastasi said.

  As for the family’s boat, it was unsalvageable. Barrett said, “he didn’t have any insurance on it as he didn’t pay that much for it.”

  However, Gaskill said he was able to salvage certain items from the burnt boat that he will use for his 22-foot cuddy fishing boat. “I saved the anchor and the trim cylinders. The old boat is on a trailer in my front yard waiting to be taken to the dump.”

Photos provided by Dawn Spellman-Anastasi and Tom Barrett

  “We’ve gotten to know them now,” Anastasi said.

  Ironically, while the two couples did not know each other before the fire, Anastasi’s son works with Gaskill’s older daughter at the Sandbox Café on the island.

  “We had never met but our kids had,” Gaskill said.

  Barrett said, “we will be getting together with them soon. They are taking us out for dinner as a thank you. We really didn’t do anything all that heroic; we were just at the right place at the right time.”

  Gaskill said that he and his family were grateful to Anastasi and Barrett and noted that things could have gone much worse.

  “Originally, we were thinking of bringing our dogs along and our other kids. Things could have been much worse had we not decided to pair it down to just the three of us,” Gaskill said.