1 LiveBloggin' the ICW: April 2019

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Tired of Getting Waked by Inconsiderate Powerboaters?

We’ve all been there - a narrow body of water such as the ICW, a fast powerboat coming from behind who is clearly not going to slow down for you. You know what’s coming, and you just hope that everything below is properly stowed. 
Still, you get on the VHF and plead that the approaching vessel slow down to pass you. Your only reply, the sibilant hiss of the VHF. Now you know for sure. Your only remaining response - a finger raised to the cowboy who passes by you, oftentimes less than a boat length away - and too often with a big smirk on his stupid face. He knows what he just did. He thinks it’s funny.
Last fall, leading 16 boats on the Sail to the Sun ICW Rally, at the north end of Lake Worth and with several other boats also southbound, I heard a commotion on the VHF from the boats behind me. Looking back, I saw a large powerboat at high speed flying through the fleet, moving in and through them with a three foot or better wake. He passed several of the boats as close as ten feet, and at least one even closer. 
I tried to hail him myself on the VHF to no avail, and as he and his passenger roared past me at the head of the line and within 20 feet, I saw no antenna and no markings on the brand new 45 foot boat. Two of my Rally boats were well ahead of the main group at the inlet. They reported that the powerboat had slowed and turned around. They took photos, as did I when it came back past us heading north, this time at a much slower speed. On its side - a small sign indicating that it was a new boat for sale from a local - and large, well known - national brokerage. Several blistering phone calls were made to the local brokerage office. I myself spoke with the sales manager three times. Further investigation discovered that the company’s captain was showing off a boat for sale to a prospect, who had his 8 year old daughter with him on board.
Later that day and a few miles further south near the Lantana bridge, the situation repeated itself. Another large powerboat roared through the fleet, only slowing when I and other boats spread out to block his progress and force him to the edge of the ICW where he had no choice but to slow down. He went a few hundred yards further at slow speed and then turned into the marina.
The year previous, I had a large northbound trawler decide to try to make the Royal Palm Bridge in West Palm right after I’d passed under it. He firewalled the throttle less than 30 yards from me, throwing up a wall of water and burying my bow in the hole he created. He wouldn’t identify himself to me on the VHF, but the bridge tender on hearing us closed the bridge and informed him that without identifying information, he would be held there.
So what’s the thread between all three of these incidents, and countless more I could recount for you?
It’s this: the United States Coast Guard no longer acts on these complaints. You can complain all you want. The Coast Guard simply doesn’t have time for these complaints any longer. They have other duties and policing the waterways is no longer their job. The USCG directs you to contact the FWC (if in Florida) or local law enforcement. 
The problem with that is that you typically cannot reach the FWC, especially on a weekend, and if you’re a transient, you probably don’t know who local law enforcement on the water is. Is it the town/city, the sheriff’s office, county mounties, or who? What is their number? Do they even have a marine patrol?
And have you ever tried to reach the FWC or a water cop via VHF out on the water? I’ve rarely gotten a response, including times when I could see their boat.
So typically, these on water cowboys with their big powerful boats get away with their dangerous behaviour. How dangerous? 
The first boat, the one that blew through the Rally, knocked four people down on four boats, injuring two people, one seriously enough that he needed medical attention. Lawyers are involved and I imagine that legal action is likely if a settlement is not reached.
In the third instance, I spoke with the local police, and requested they contact me after investigating. I never heard back from them.
The problem is that because the laws are not being enforced by the USCG or state/local police, these incidents are becoming much more common. I warn people going south during my seminars that it is unwise to travel south of Palm Beach on the weekends, it’s that uncomfortable. Anchor up in Peck Lake and enjoy a couple of days break at the beach - and avoid the idiots.
So what can we do to protect ourselves from these irresponsible clowns? 

First of all, have your VHF on, and where you can hear it in the cockpit. Too many of we sailors can’t hear our radios and get waked by people who would otherwise slow down for us if they could contact us.
Watch behind you. If you see a powerboat coming up fast, get on the VHF, identify yourself and offer to slow down so they can give you a slow pass. Most powerboaters, bless them, will appreciate that and accommodate you. 
Slow down to under 4 knots so they can get their speed well down. Once they’re past, get in behind them so they can get back up on plane. 
Be sure to thank them too, and by boat name. Not only is it polite (like mom told you to be!) and seamanlike, but other boaters hear you and are far more likely to be courteous when they go by you. It’s a win-win all around.
But what if they don’t slow down? First of all, make sure that you protect yourself. Warn anyone below that you’re about to be waked. Turn the boat away as far as you can, and then turn bow into the wake as it hits you to minimize the rolling. Mutter the appropriate curses under your breath to get your heart rate down.
Get on the VHF and warn other boaters ahead. Name the boat and it’s location, and speed. Every now and then this action triggers the lone brain cell these dopes still have and they slow down for boats ahead. It can’t hurt, and it might help.
Then - contact the local authorities. Try the USCG on Channel 16 and give the details over the air. If the other boat hears it, again it may slow them down. Generally however, the USCG will give you the local police agency’s number.
Get an officer on the line and get his contact information. Even if he says that he’s not the marine officer, get the email for them from him.
Now email the photos you just took of the offending vessel - you did take photos showing the registration number, the driver, the wake the boat was throwing, right? - along with the time, lat and long of the incident, weather conditions, water state, other traffic and pertinent details. Tell them that you want this investigated and that you want to hear back from them about it.
Then, follow up. Give them a week or so to contact the other boater, get his side of the story, and be prepared to be told that the other boater was warned about his behaviour and that is likely as far as it will go.
The police don’t want to bother with this stuff. They’ve got more important issues to deal with, and I understand that. But unless we start reporting these incidents, they’re going to continue, and get worse.
Yes, you’re right - that doesn’t seem like it’s enough to resolve the problem. Is there anything else we can do? I’d like to hear your thoughts on this. Let’s get a dialogue going and see if there’s a way we can make our waterways safer and more pleasant for all of us.
There is one thing however - we need to demand that the police start aggressively going after these irresponsible boaters. When enough of the boating public speaks out, things will start to change. It’s on us to make it happen. 
For that reason, I ask you as fellow boaters to share this blog post to your own timeline, and to other boating groups you belong to. Make sure as many people as possible get the word. Just use the share button at the bottom of this page. Together, we can make boating safer, and more enjoyable.

Sail to the Sun ICW Roundup
The 2019 Sail to the Sun ICW Rally is now 25% full, I’m happy to say, with a lot of inquiries coming in. I’m already in touch with several of the locations we visit to discuss this year’s itinerary. Our hosts at the marinas and towns we stop by are looking forward to welcoming the Rally crew again.
The Sail to the Sun ICW Rally, for those not familiar with it, starts in Hampton VA and goes to Miami FL. We take two months, so it’s a very leisurely trip. Lots of time to explore, and relax while fleeing the cold north weather. 

There are a lot of intriguing events planned. For example, we’ll be visiting a rum distillery as all good pirates should. Also, we’ll visit a maritime museum in Beaufort and learn all about Edward Teach, otherwise known as Blackbeard. A couple of days later, the town of Southport will host a dock party for us, one of many on our way south. Thanksgiving will be in St. Mary’s GA at the legendary Cruisers Thanksgiving Potluck.
As always, we’ll stop at Windmill Harbor on Hilton Head to be treated like royalty by our wonderful hosts there.
Hopefully, the town of Fernandina Beach will finally have its marina back in operation after hurricane damage repairs and we’ll spend a couple of days in this lovely small city. That’s after we leave Jekyll Island and Cumberland Island, exploring these locales. Both are exquisite, and in Cumberland, you’ll see wild horses, armadillos and sea turtles.
One of the trip’s highlights is our stop in Cocoa. They roll out the red carpet for us with a courtesy van for provisioning, a mayor’s reception, a pub night with entertainment and for those who wish, a trip to the Kennedy Space Center.
If you want more details on the Rally, you can go to the website, Sail to the Sun, and read more there. You can also request a Rally brochure there from one of the links, or you can contact me directly here.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Were we having fun? Sure looks like it!

I was browsing through my files yesterday, trying to tidy up the computer, and got distracted by my photo file. I ended up reliving the past year on the water and the trip south with the crew of the 2018 Sail to the Sun ICW Rally. Looks like I was having way more fun than I realized!

The Sail to the Sun ICW Rally is now 25% full, so we're filling up faster than usual. If you're interested in more information about the Rally, click here: Sail to the Sun