Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Don’t Do What I Did

Don't Do What I Did

We have all been there — arriving late to the marina on a long weekend, wanting/needing to find the perfect weekend dock. The seriousness of preventable events that occurred later all stemmed from the same initial failure to check the marine forecast before heading out.

The wind and waves on this July day were memorable, but not in a way that was beckoning for boaters. Our vessel was tucked snugly into a protected dock in a sheltered bay and my husband went for a stroll, wearing foul weather gear to keep him warm against the biting 20-knots wind. I decided to join him after he set out, and as I began to descend from a wooded path, I was shocked at the situation I saw unfolding at the water’s edge.

My husband looked like he was surfing, hanging on the stern line of a huge powerboat, while a man tried desperately to untie the bowline from a 50-foot Sea Ray tied to a finger dock intended for vessels under 25 feet. The waves were at least three feet high; the boat was heaving, and the dock was twisting and groaning as each wave hit. The boat had likely been there all night as the combination of the weight of the boat and the wind force had pulled loose the iron spikes used to secure the dock to the rock.  The dock was going to break free from its holding very soon, and the Sea Ray would go with it.

I could see a woman looking down from the flying bridge, anxiously waiting for instructions from the man I gathered was her husband (and the captain). He was off the boat, wearing only a tee shirt and swim trunks (no life jacket), struggling to keep his balance on the dangerously dancing dock. In addition, the captain was desperately trying to untie the bowline as the wind blew relentlessly and the waves pounded again and again.

Suddenly, there was a lurch and the stern and bow lines were yanked from my husband and the captain’s grip, leaving the vessel and the first mate to the mercy of the waves. Shouting to be heard over the howling wind, the husband coached the wife on how to steer the boat. She was doing a fine job — until the engine cut and the waves pushed the boat closer and closer to a rock face.

The captain used his cell phone to alert a friend boating nearby of the predicament and requested assistance. The engine restarted in the nick of time and the first mate steered to open water as a bowrider with a 50 horsepower outboard zipped through the waves, cautiously attempting to retrieve the captain from the dock.

After several rescue tries it was clear that the waves made docking impossible. The captain jumped off the dock and swam to his friend’s boat, climbing aboard via the swim ladder.

Meanwhile the first mate was still circling around in the boat. As the bowrider approached, the Sea Ray’s engine cut out again, and she was propelled into a plethora of sailboats bobbing on anchor. Within seconds the engine started and once more the first mate headed towards safe waters as the bowrider fought the waves and pulled its starboard side along the Sea Ray’s swim platform. The captain crawled onto the bow and jumped off the smaller boat, over the waves, onto his boat. He quickly ran up to the bridge and I watched as the boat bobbed back to the marina and the safety of a secure slip.

I was relieved that no one had been injured but there were several times when serious injury and/or damage seemed imminent. My husband and I wondered whether the vessel’s engine was overdue for scheduled maintenance and why the captain chose to not wear a life jacket when climbing onto a broken dock in high waves, jumping into churning water, and then leaping from one bobbling boat to another. No matter what, had the captain just checked the forecast before leaving his slip at night, in bad weather, on a crowded weekend, he could have spent an uneventful day at the dock waiting for nice weather to return, just as we did.

By Colleen Ellison-Wareing

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