CHATHAM – Louis Guarracina loved fishing. If he wasn't with his family or working, it was likely he was on the waters off Chatham catching stripers or tuna.
“He just loved fish,” said Peter Harris, CEO of HighRes Biosolutions, the company Mr. Guarracina co-founded in 2004. The conference rooms at the company's Beverly headquarters are all named for different species of fish, he said.
Last Wednesday, Mr. Guarracina apparently died doing what he loved. On a day with a dense fog and heavy surf, he launched his 24-foot Carolina Skiff and headed toward the North Inlet. Authorities have yet to piece together exactly what happened, but the overturned skiff was spotted around noon by the crew working on the Barnstable County dredge in Chatham Harbor just south of the inlet. Mr. Guarracina's body was recovered nearby.
Cape and Islands Assistant District Attorney for Media Relations Tara Miltimore said while the matter remains under investigation, there was no indication the cause of death was "anything other than accidental."
Mr. Guarracina was a resident of Newburyport and had a home on Morris Island.
The incident highlights just how hazardous conditions can get in the inlet, said Harbormaster Stuart Smith, who responded to the call from the dredge crew along with personnel from Coast Guard Station Chatham.
“It's just inherently dangerous,” Smith said. Fishermen that day described conditions that day as “white knuckle,” he added, noting storms at sea and an easterly wind produced “some significant surf conditions.” The National Weather Service had also issued a dense fog advisory. In such conditions, “it's hard to see what's coming at you,” he said.
While the area where the skiff was found is technically outside the surf zone, in certain conditions there can be surf “well inside the harbor,” Smith said.
John Harland, duty officer at First Coast Guard District, said Station Chatham's 42- and 24-foot lifeboats were deployed along with the Chatham Harbormaster's boat. The body was retrieved by the harbormaster crew and brought to the fish pier. Harland confirmed there was only one person aboard the boat at the time of the incident. The incident is under investigation by the state police and the state environmental police.
Harris said Mr. Guarracina was a brilliant engineer and inventor who pioneered the use of modular robotic systems in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries.
“He was an unbelievable technological visionary the likes of which do not come along very often,” said Harris. “He could see real solutions that needed to be created and really just fundamentally reinvent ways you could bring automation and robotics to a laboratory environment.”
The holder of 11 patents in modular automation and consumables, Mr. Guarracina, who also held a black belt in karate, had stepped down as CEO of the company about 18 months ago to become chief technology officer and devote his time to solving technical problems, said Harris. Before founding the company, Mr. Guarracina worked in the pharmaceutical industry and for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. HighRes Biosolutions is a $50 million company with 160 employees worldwide, Harris said.
Mr. Guarracina was devoted to his wife Kristen, who also works at HighRes Biosolutions, and their two sons, said Harris, and had a special passion for fishing. His Facebook page is full of photos of Mr. Guarracina with tuna, stripers and other fish he caught, often with local charter fishing captains. One post dated Aug. 5 shows a photo of a 42-foot motorized catamaran that was being built for him in Miami. Smith said Mr. Guarracina told him about the new boat when they met for the first time about a month ago.
“He seemed like a nice gentleman,” Smith said.
“He literally had a limitless amount of energy to plow into the things he cared about,” Harris said.
The loss will be felt by Mr. Guarracina's family and friends and by the industry, Harris said.
“He really has had such a giant impact,” he said. “It's a big loss not to have him be able to keep inventing like he did. He really was one of the kind.”
Smith said the dredging, which has yet to begin, will alleviate some of the safety concerns in the North Inlet by eliminating shoaling just inside and to the south of the cut. But it won't change the fact that boats have to run parallel to the beach on the outside for a distance to following the existing channel. Most of the commercial fleet and many recreational boaters are using the North Inlet, he said, although some still use the 1987 inlet.
“They're both awful,” Smith said. “Chatham's history of inlets is that they're always very challenging and dangerous spots.”
Other small boats were going out the North Inlet last Wednesday, he added. One fisherman told him that a small skiff was following him through the inlet, and every time it hit a wave the entire bottom of the skiff went out of the water.
“People just have to pick their days,” Smith said.