When Gloucester Times photo editor Allegra Boverman headed out Thursday morning to capture photos illustrating the arrival of striped bass on Cape Ann, she never expected to find herself in, well, a bit of a quagmire.
She had simply gone to the flats off Crafts Road and the Nichols Candies shop in search of the several fishermen she had seen a bit earlier.
“I looked out and didn’t see anybody fishing anymore,” she would relate later. “So I put on my boots in case there was someone just beyond my view. I got almost to the point where they usually fish and I thought I would step down an incline that looked manageable. But when I stepped down from that spot, I sank deep into the mud.
“It went right up to above my knees,” Boverman said, once she returned safe and dry to the Times newsroom. “The more I tried to move, the worse it got — and I could hear these sucking sounds on my left hand side.”
She was about 50 yards out on Little River, a finger of the Annisquam River, behind Nichols Candies, and laden with two cameras. The mud quickly filled her almost knee-high boots, almost like wet cement, making it even more difficult to try to remove herself by rocking back and forth.
”I waited a few minutes to see if I could do something to free myself and then I called the office,” she said.
Reporter Richard Gaines, who was writing the striper fishing story, had just returned to the office, and since Gaines had his own pair of waders, Editor Ray Lamont, fielding Boverman’s call, dispatched Gaines to her aid.
Within minutes of arriving, he knew the only means of extraction would be gained by calling 911.
”I was thinking maybe it’s not an emergency, but he thought otherwise,” said Boverman, who had sunk into mud well above her knees. “I was trying to be careful and watch where I was walking.”
Then she took that fateful step that took her deeper than she ever expected.
”I give her all the credit in the world — she went the extra mile, but went a few feet too far,” said Lamont, who tried in vain to call both Gaines and Boverman, and was about to call 911 himself when he heard the call about a “woman stuck in the mud” broadcast over the emergency scanner.
Capt. Robert Parsons of the Gloucester Fire Department’s West Gloucester station was dispatched to the scene along with firefighter Dan Kennedy. Meanwhile, firefighters Jason LoCoco and Kevin Gargan from Rescue One went to the scene as well.
”Dan Kennedy grabbed the shovel, he took his shoes and socks off and jumped right in,” said Parsons.
It was not a quick and easy removal.
Boverman said Kennedy was using the shovel and was digging with both hands to dig her out of the mud. At some point, her left foot became free from the mud-filled boot. She had been able to partially free her right foot earlier, but was quickly running out of steam to lean on it from trying to free herself earlier.
She was carried safely in her socks to the shore. But her right blue rubber boot with the whale print remained entrenched in the mud, where it will likely stay for many a changing tide.
Kennedy got stuck himself, but used the shovel as a crutch of sorts to get out of the mud, said Parsons. Afterward, they used the fire truck to hose the mud off both Boverman and Kennedy. By the time all parties returned to their work places, the news was all over Twitter and Facebook.
”We’re just glad she is OK,” said Capt. Phil Harvey.
There are no photos of the actual rescue; Boverman had handed her cameras to Gaines to be put on land for safe keeping. And no harm came to Boverman’s camera gear, save for a few splashes of mud. She had strapped them so they were oriented onto her upper back.
Although the Gloucester Fire Department does not commonly receive these types of calls, Harvey said such an incident is not unheard of. Many people are able to extract themselves, or a bystander helps out so the rescue squad is rarely called. But Thursday’s incident sparked conversation at the firehouse about a couple of serious cases, one which was fatal.
Many years ago, an older man was clamming in the area of Mill River when he got stuck in the mud and was unable to free himself, veteran firefighters recalled. No one was around so no one found him in time before tide came in, and he drowned.
In another case, a few years back, someone jumped off a boat near Ten Pound Island at low tide and when he landed, a piece of rebar went through his foot. The tide was coming in as rescue personnel worked to free the man, and in the end, they had to cut the piece of rebar to free him.
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3445, or at email@example.com.