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Monday, August 14, 2000

Photo courtesy Stuart Yoneji
Amos Tamura, at left. Boat owner Stuart Yoneji,
right, says "life is more important."

Kauai fisherman
Tamura prayed his
way to rescue

Amos Tamura was rescued
Friday night after 2-1/2 days
atop a capsized catamaran

By Leila Fujimori


When Kauai resident Amos Tamura hooked three fish simultaneously -- including a 600-pound marlin -- at about noon last Wednesday off Kalaheo, it was not his lucky day.

The weight of the fish capsized the borrowed 22-foot catamaran, and the Wailua fisherman spent the next 2-1/2 days clinging to the small portion of the exposed hull.

Tamura, suffering from extreme sunburn and hypothermia, was picked up Friday night by a Coast Guard helicopter about 20 miles off the coast of Niihau, drifting about 70 miles from where he caught the fish.

Before going down, Tamura had landed two tunas -- 180- and 150-pounders -- which he stored in the main fish box on one side of the boat. He called a nearby fisherman for help with the marlin, but he was unavailable.

After fighting the marlin for three hours, he gaffed and killed it, but was unable to bring the fish up. So he tied it off opposite the fish box to stabilize the vessel.

"A wave busted inside the back corner and topped off the fish box with ice and brine already inside," he said. The water added more weight to that side of the boat. The motor sputtered out.

Then another wave hit.

"The motor was in the air; the boat was already tipping and there was no time to call, so I just bailed," said Tamura, 37.

The boat was well equipped with VHF and CB radios, a cellular phone and an emergency beacon. So after capsizing, Tamura dived 20 times under the boat to reach the beacon stored inside the cabin.

But exhausted from fighting the fish and with the lures sinking to the bottom 9,000 feet below, Tamura feared getting tangled in and pierced by the lures.

So he climbed onto the hull and waited for help. His arms were badly chafed from holding on to the slippery hull for 55 hours, and his body was beaten against the motor.

"I prayed all day and all night," Tamura said.

Meanwhile, Tamura's mother, Shirley Tamura, with whom he lives, suspected something was wrong. She said her son never misses the Thursday Bible educational meeting unless he's sick, so she called a fisherman friend who suggested she call the Coast Guard. And many fisherman friends who knew Tamura shared in the search, she said.

"It was the happiest sight in my life to see the Coast Guard plane," he said.

"I want to thank the Coast Guard and all the fishermen that came to look for me," Tamura said. Most of all, he wanted to thank God.

"I believe he was watching over me, or else I wouldn't be here."

As for the boat's owner, Stuart Yoneji, he's not upset his friend sank his boat, which was insured. Yoneji, who lives five minutes from Nawiliwili Harbor, had been in California while Tamura house-sat, and had given him permission to use his boat.

"We were more worried about him than anything," Yoneji said. "The boat is just a material thing. Life is more important."

Tamura remained in the Kauai Veterans Hospital in Waimea for observation. His wife was to fly in from Michigan last night.

Tamura, who also works as a laborer for a building contractor, plans to move to Michigan, where his wife, Victoria, and son Brian had already moved. He doesn't know how the fishing is there, but it's a love he can't give up.

"I'd probably go crazy if I can't fish," he said.

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