ASHTABULA - As a first mate on Winter Blues, a charter fishing boat out of Ashtabula Harbor, Hayden ''Bud'' Starcher is used to cleaning fish.
What the 51-year-old millwright at Thomas Steel in Warren isn't used to is finding himself in the middle of a daring Lake Erie water rescue eight or nine miles northwest of the dock.
But Starcher, of Stoddard Hayes Road in Johnston, found himself in the role of good Samaritan Friday when he grabbed onto the last of three elderly men floating without life jackets in relatively calm waters after their 21-foot recreational boat sank about 12:30 p.m.
''We couldn't even see the boat when we got there,'' said Starcher, who takes his orders from his captain, Jerry Lesnak, 64, of Chestnut Ridge Road in Hubbard.
Starcher and Lesnak both say they were fishing with a half dozen men and near another boat, Kona Babe, captained by Tom Hogan of Ashtabula.
Hogan's boat headed back to shore and first spotted the men - two from Pennsylvania and another from Ohio - floating in the water with all the debris from the sinking boat. Hogan radioed Lesnak to help with the rescue.
''One had a hold of a gas can and another had hold of a seat cushion. Then this third elderly man was floating on his back holding only to his walking cane,'' Starcher said.
He said the first two men were helped to the rear of Hogan's boat, where a swim platform made for an easier rescue. But they kept pointing out to the third man.
''I grabbed a life jacket and a donut and told the guys in our boat to hold onto the rope and don't let go,'' said Starcher before jumping out and swimming to the man he described as ''in his 80s and sucking in and spitting out water.''
''The guy was as close as you could get to not making it,'' said Lesnak, who operates Uptown Car Wash in Hubbard during the off-season. ''I was driving and trying not to hit anyone or getting caught up in the rope. But God was watching over this guy and Bud, too.''
Starcher said, ''The guy told me he couldn't move, but he was starting to sink. I finally got underneath him and put his head on my belly and they started bringing us in.''
The U.S. Coast Guard at Ashtabula Station had been called and arrived about six miles out after the men had floated for about 15 minutes and after the 10-minute rescue by Starcher and the men on Winter Blues and Kona Babe.
Starcher said the victims were all transferred to the 33-foot Coast Guard vessel - two in a state of exhaustion and the third nearly unresponsive. They were treated by emergency medical services at the dock before being transported by ambulance to Ashtabula County Medical Center.
All three were reportedly in stable condition and their names were not being released.