New York is where he was, asleep in his bunk aboard the Adirondack, an 80-foot schooner he was captaining on Hudson River daysails. The shriek of emergency sirens woke him up. Quickly turning on the television, he watched a hijacked American Airlines plane slam into the south tower of the World Trade Center.
Freitas, 52, hotfooted it over to the Chelsea Screamer, a 56-foot powerboat owned by his boss. He found film crews looking for a lift to the World Trade Center, so he headed two miles south from the boat's home at Chelsea Piers to North Cove Marina, located along the Hudson at the World Trade Center.
"What we saw defies description," Freitas recalled in an interview.
He yelled "holy s—" as the north tower collapsed — an epitaph he said viewers could hear on the live CNN coverage of the event.
At the north side of the North Cove Marina, he picked up 15 people trying to flee the disaster. He said one man was screaming that he had last seen his wife and daughter on the south side of the marina. "We found them," Freitas said, adding that he picked up another 60 people there.
In a boat certified to carry 49 people, Freitas ferried 75 across the Hudson River to Liberty State Park in Jersey City. From there, he headed to Pier A at the Battery, located at the very tip of Manhattan. Loading on another 60 people, he took them up to Chelsea Piers, located at 23rd Street and the West Side Highway.
"They were out of harm's way and could get medical attention," Freitas said, noting that by this time, triage facilities had been set up at Chelsea Piers. At this point, he and a mate named Tim took to organizing the people crowding onto Chelsea Piers in an attempt to board the dinner cruise boats there that were ferrying people across to New Jersey. "We worked on that until Tuesday night," he said, referring to Sept. 11.
After catching a few hours of sleep, Freitas and Chelsea Screamer owner Sean Kennedy transported about 20 National Guard troops to ground zero on the Chelsea Screamer. "The flames were still going up," he recalled as he spoke about what they saw in the area.
From there, the two men started canvassing the neighborhood around ground zero. They found many people stranded on the upper floors of buildings because the elevators didn't work and others who had returned to look for pets. Some needed medical care, so they evacuated about 20 people to Chelsea Piers.
By Wednesday night, Freitas was aboard the John J. Harvey, a fireboat pulled from retirement, helping the crew operate the water pumps. When the sun came up on Thursday, he found himself just outside ground zero organizing a shovel brigade to rid the streets of the slick mud and debris that posed a threat to rescue workers heading to and from the World Trade Center site.
And on Friday, three days after the terrorist attacks, he set up a supply depot to provide goods to ground zero workers. Using a 15 by 30-foot "function" tent kept aboard the Chelsea Screamer, a few more tents that he gathered up and a police guard, he stockpiled and distributed tons of supplies. "I ran that for 108 hours," he said — another four and a half days.
Bone-tired and heartsick at what he had seen, Freitas turned the supply depot operation over to the American Red Cross before heading off on a long-planned trip to New London, Conn., for a regatta and then to Italy with his girlfriend, Barbara Emerson.
Two months later, "When I think about it, I get choked," he said of his experience. He's back on St. Thomas, thousands of miles removed from New York, but the images of Sept. 11 and its immediate aftermath are still with him, and time and distance won't take them away.