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Canoeist did not capsize, but suffered stroke

May 7, 2010


BLUE HILL, Maine — A local man who encountered trouble while retrieving a canoe in Blue Hill Bay last month is recuperating at home after spending a week in the hospital.

Neal Pettigrew, 60, of Blue Hill suffered a stroke while attempting to retrieve a canoe that had drifted from shore the morning of Sunday, April 11, but nonetheless was able to make his way to Long Island, where a rescue team reached him.

An initial report indicating Pettigrew had fallen out of his canoe twice was incorrect, according to an updated report from the Maine Marine Patrol and to Trish Pettigrew, Neal Pettigrew’s wife.

The marine patrol’s updated report indicated that Pettigrew, who is a professor of oceanography at the University of Maine, had been testing a prototype current meter in the waters near the Falls Bridge in Blue Hill Bay. He had paddled out to retrieve the meter and returned to shore.

He pulled the canoe onto shore and was checking the current meter when the canoe was washed off the shore and drifted away. Pettigrew was wearing a wetsuit, so he ran into the water and swam to the drifting canoe. Although he managed to catch up with the drifting canoe, he realized that he would not be able to get it back to shore, so he let go and let it drift.

Pettigrew made it back to shore and headed to his nearby home, where he got another canoe, hoping to retrieve the first. He launched the second canoe and paddled hard to reach the first canoe, which had drifted out toward Long Island. He retrieved the canoe and secured it.

That was when he suffered the stroke. According to the report, Pettigrew suffered extreme pain in his head, and his vision was severely impaired. Despite that, he was able to paddle to the shore of Long Island.

A rescue team from the Blue Hill Fire Department and the Marine Patrol reached him on the island and brought him back to Blue Hill. He was taken to Blue Hill Memorial Hospital and later transferred to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

Pettigrew is an accomplished canoeist and kayaker, Trish Pettigrew said Thursday. He is an experienced paddler who not only has competed and placed in white-water canoe races in Maine, but also competed in a national white-water race and paddled solo around the Cape of Good Hope.

“He’s an accomplished paddler,” she said. “He didn’t fall out of the canoe.”

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