Marcia Beal Brazer is from Ogunquit and the wife of Norman Brazer Jr., a lobsterman. This interview was recorded in March 2018 at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum. Brazer was interviewed by Matt Frassica with help from intern Corina Gribble, and this interview was edited by intern Katie Clark.
I want to tell you about a 20th century miracle at sea. On October 14, 1991, I was in my driveway planting daffodils. A person came to my driveway and told me that my husband had fallen overboard and that he had drowned. I got in my car—driving in slow motion—I saw the police drive by, and I knew that they were going to come and tell me the bad news.
I drove down to the Perkins Cove, and I saw the fishermen there and I said, “Please tell me, has this really happened?” And they said, “Well, they found your husband’s boat. The name of the boat is the Marcia Beal, which is after me. Gardner Marshall saw the boat, it was heading toward Kennebunkport. They said, “We don’t think that he had a chance to survive.” Mark Sewell from York was getting into his truck in York Harbor, had heard the news about my husband falling overboard. Got back in his truck and decided he was going to go explore the fresh bait in the lobster traps. He told me he was led to do that. Meanwhile, what happened to Norman is the toggle buoy wrapped around his leg, pulled him to the stern of his boat. He had the knife up forward. He was strong enough to pull the rope, fall over the side, and then he was drawn under the water. And then released the rope from his leg and popped up. No boat. He looks over and sees Boon Island. He thinks, “Oh my gosh, I’m not ready to go yet.” Thank God he knew how to swim—most fishermen don’t. He kicked off his boots. He decided he was going to swim to Boon Island.
Meanwhile, Mark Sewell was the one, with his mate, [that] was led to find my husband. He went by this thing that looked like a grassed-over lobster buoy and he decided to turn around and “not pass it over,” as he said. He went back and looked. It was my husband’s head, in the water with his hair coming down, just ready to go to Davy Jones’ locker.
Meanwhile, I had taken a course in scuba diving. I was the oldest person in the class and the only woman. And I remember them talking to me about this Dr. Shaker who was a very good doctor for hypothermia. He’s the best one north of Boston.
So, back to the story. All of a sudden, a friend called across and said, “They found him.” They didn’t say if he was dead or alive, just “He’s at York Hospital.” So we got there, there was no sign of my husband. I thought, “That’s it. He didn’t make it.” All of a sudden we got word that he was coming in. They opened up the doors at York Hospital, he was as gray as a battleship. He had already had CPR twice. The Coast Guard woman gave him CPR, the York ambulance crew came and gave him CPR. And I said to the hospital, “By any chance do you have a Dr. Shaker here?” They said, “Oh, well, yes but he’s not on call.” I said, “Would you mind calling him?”
An hour and a half later Dr. Shaker comes out of the operating room and says that my husband was literally drowned, that he had a gallon of seawater in him, his temperature was 84, his heart was in AFIB [atrial fibrillation], but he thought he was going to survive. Then he finally came back another hour later to a whole room filled with all our friends and said, “We think that he’s going to be okay. You can go in and see him.” So I said I wanted his mother to go in first, and then I came in and the first thing he said to me is, “How’s the boat?” So I knew he was okay.
He came home, and we had a boatload of people streaming in and out of our house. We had businessmen, we had fishermen, we had old friends. We had grown men sit in our living room and cry. And it was the synergy of everything working together. It was truly a 20th century miracle. And I’m still recovering from it.
Two weeks later he goes back on the Marcia Beal, goes fishing. We had some really funny relatives that would [say], “I think I’m gonna send you some knives instead of flowers.”
Even today, we live on the water and I can see him go out, and on the days he goes out, I really don’t want to go anywhere. I want to make sure that he gets in ashore okay before I can go off. And I even watch some of the younger fishermen that go out alone. My husband’s never had a sternman. I was going to go with him at one time. I even got a class two license, I was going be his mate, but he really prefers to go alone. He can concentrate a lot better. And he’s a water man. He needed to go back on the water. And I just admired his courage for doing that.
Just treasure every single minute and be grateful for what you have. He just wasn’t meant to go and we’re still working out that. I’d wake up in the morning and think, “Did he really die at sea? Did he really make it? Am I dreaming?” I had a really hard time dealing with that.
He has always been very down-to-earth. He has always been a very true-to-himself person. He walks every morning, he’s a lobsterman, he has a garden. It really changed me more than it changed him. Because he was already okay. I was the one making life complicated. I just wanted a more simple life and it brought me down to earth about what was really important. I feel so blessed that my husband was saved for me because I wouldn’t have had him all these years and we have so much fun. We’ve been married for 52 years. He’s the love of my life, and I’m just so blessed.
Voices of the Maine Fishermen’s Forum, an Oral History, was made possible by Maine Sea Grant, The First Coast, College of the Atlantic, and the Island Institute. This series is coordinated by Natalie Springuel, Maine Sea Grant.