On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 Captain Stuart Daccus showed up for a shift at Lincoln Harbor Marina in New Jersey without an inkling of what the day had in store for him. Then 28 years old, the Yorkshire, England, native now living in Aquebogue had been working on boats for nearly a decade with four years’ experience as a captain.
He was about to put that training to good use.
Mr. Daccus watched as United Airlines Flight 175, the second plane to crash into the World Trade Center, hit the South Tower, killing all 65 passengers on board and leading to the deaths of more than 1,000 others. Then it became clear that people were trying to flee the city. So Mr. Daccus and boat captain Robert Bellanich found one of the biggest boats in the harbor, a Horizon Cruise dinner boat that holds 800 people, to ferry people across. But the keys were missing — the captain was not at the harbor that day.
So Mr. Daccus did what any seasoned sailor would do in that situation.
He hot-wired it.
“I managed to start it from the engine room,” Mr. Daccus said. “Neither of us had driven a boat this size before.”
They gathered a small crew and hopped aboard the boat.
But the men ran into another problem, Mr. Bellanich said, so he had to use the throttle to maneuver the ship across the river.
“The steering pump wasn’t working,” he recalled in a recent interview.
The pair and a few others took the vessel across the Hudson River, but pulling in toward the southern tip of the island was impossible. Instead, they started loading people at Chelsea Piers.
“Downtown was already a huge mess,” Mr. Daccus said. “One lady had big chunks of concrete in her hair, [there were] faces covered in dust.”
Mr. Daccus helped dock the boat for boarding as the smell of the collapsed burning towers wafted from several miles south. He said many people had a dazed look about them as they were herded onto the boat.
Mr. Daccus stayed aboard for three trips, ferrying to New Jersey an estimated 2,400 people who might not have had any other way to get back to their loved ones that day.
Instead of being angry over the theft, Horizon Cruise later nominated Mr. Daccus for an award from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which he received in 2003.
Still, Mr. Daccus is modest about his heroic efforts, saying that anyone would do the same thing in his situation.
“We were just trying to evacuate New York City as quickly as possible,” he said.
Now working as a caretaker at an Aquebogue home on Meetinghouse Creek, Mr. Daccus and his girlfriend, Margarita, just welcomed their second child, Stuart Jr., originally due on Sept. 11, on Aug. 19.
When asked how he knew how to hot-wire a boat, Mr. Daccus, whose work has taken him to luxury yachts all over the world, played coy.
“I can’t tell you that,” he said with a laugh.