BY KEIKO MORRIS STAFF WRITER
Christopher Brooks was down to his last flare.
From his 8-foot inflatable dinghy purchased at a yard sale, he could see a boat about a mile or so away in the Long Island Sound, only the second one he had seen in almost 12 hours yesterday morning. He had survived the torrential rains, the winds and 8-foot seas of the night before and was now drifting toward the open ocean.
So he risked lighting his last flare. "Annoyingly," he said, the striker flew off the cap and into the water without lighting.
"I started thinking, 'My God, what if we get into this evening and no one comes to pick me up?'" said Brooks, 46, who was pulled from the Long Island Sound by the Coast Guard at 6:45 a.m. yesterday.
Brooks, a British-born painter married to socialite and fashionista Amanda Brooks, had set out from his Southold weekend home for an evening of fishing, thinking that he would "putter around" for a few hours in the hopes of catching striped bass, as he had the week before.
"I had read the day's post, which said, 'rain dying out later,'" Christopher Brooks recalled. "When I went down to the beach it wasn't raining and the water wasn't breaking on the Sound and it seemed OK."
Brooks, who lives in Manhattan, was unprepared for what was to come -- a recalcitrant motor, torrential rains, wind and waves and currents that ripped him from the shores of Horton Point westward and within a mile of the Connecticut shoreline only to pull him back in the opposite direction.
"I didn't think it was a sign that it's not a day you need to be doing this," he said.
Not long after he launched, his problems began. The motor cut out, Brooks said. He gave it a couple of pulls before he began trying to row back to shore.
"I guess the most frightening moment was when I thought I was going to lose sight of land."
With waves at times reaching 8 feet, Brooks focused on keeping the nose of the boat into the waves, he said. Two hours into it, one oar snapped, and he was left to steer his boat with a single oar.
"What was spooky was that you could hear a breaking wave coming toward you, but you couldn't see anything," he said.
A lull set in, and Brooks, who was wearing half a wet suit and a life vest, barely caught his breath when he noticed one side of the boat deflating. He used a pump to firm up the boat's side, threw up for a while, wondering when his wife was going to freak out and call the Coast Guard, he said.
Amanda Brooks knew something was wrong at 10 p.m., an hour after she had fallen asleep while putting their 4-year-old daughter, Coco, to bed.
"It was a phenomenal rain and I knew he would never voluntarily be out in the boat in that downpour," she said.
She called the Southold Town police, whose senior bay constable launched a search at about 10:30 p.m. She called the Coast Guard at about 11 p.m.
Donald Dzenkowski, Southold's senior bay constable, and a police officer, searched before they were forced to turn around at about 1:30 a.m., he said.
The Coast Guard sent out a rescue boat from New London, Conn., that arrived at the scene at about 1:40 a.m.
Amanda Brooks, former creative director for the design house Tuleh and soon-to-be author of a book on personal style, said she spent several hours paralyzed in fear, but then went into survival mode.
She would only break down in sobs after learning that her husband had been rescued.
She was grateful, she said, to the Coast Guard, which called her frequently with updates and tried to locate her husband through the GPS system of his cell phone, which, it turned out, had become waterlogged.
At about 4 a.m., Christopher Brooks was close enough to see houses on the Connecticut shoreline, but the winds shifted and began dragging him in the opposite direction.
At 5 a.m., he saw an illuminated boat far off in the distance and decided to use two flares.
More than an hour later, a second boat was visible in the distance but he lost his striker and he was left with only an orange distress flag.
"I was in the process of tying it to my fishing rod, when I turn around and this Coast Guard boat was right behind me," Brooks said. "It was the one thing I was hoping for and I guess it was like, 'Oh, well, here they are.'"