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What Happened To Joe Rocco?

Joe RoccoJoe Rocco, “the Mayor of Heckscher” died windsurfing Hurricane Irene on Sunday. To meet Joe once was to have a great new windsurfing friend, generous with information, stoke, spirit, you name it. The new article in Newsday begins “Joseph Rocco, the only Long Islander to die as a result of Tropical Storm Irene, was a friend and mentor to many in the local windsurfing scene, said those who knew him.” And he could sail! So what happened? In the Yahoo Long Island Windsurfing bulletin board, his very dear girlfriend Marianne tells this story:

They drove to Shirley and found one windsurfer already there (James), sailing a 4.1 on a 78 liter board. They took wind readings of 20-28 mph. Joe rigged a 3.7 for his Dill, and Marianne rigged a 3.2. Joe launched to take a few runs “to see if it was too much for me to handle.” Marianne took another wind reading, and got 45-50. James came back in as the winds were now too much for him, and Marianne decided not to launch.

Visibility was limited. A nearby spectator with a telephoto lens on his camera said it looked like Joe was separated from his rig and was following it to shore. Marianne and James tried walking along the shore to meet Joe where they thought he’d come in, but the beach was mostly gone or covered with debris so they walked down the road. The police and EMT’s showed up, went out with James to look for Joe, and told Marianne to meet them at Brookhaven Hospital.

Neither the EMT’s nor the hospital was able to resuscitate him. Marianne said Joe’s head “was very badly banged up, nose probably broken, bruising around his entire upper face. Something had obviously hit his head very badly and he hopefully didn’t even know what hit him. “

Joe was a skilled windsurfer. My guess is that he hit a piece of debris floating just beneath the surface, and was catapulted badly into something large and hard in the water. Floating debris is the hazard we usually don’t think about when storm sailing. I know I wasn’t looking for it at Mecox during my session, even though I remember things floating around out there after storms in the past.

Like Rich Simons said in the Yahoo group, this could have happened to any of us.

(photo of Joe on a better day courtesy Bill Doutney)