Posted by: towmasters | May 14, 2011

They’re Back!!!

Yes, it’s that time of year again! With Memorial Day weekend rapidly approaching the weather is warming up and the recreational boaters are washing out their beer coolers and carefully checking over their stereo systems, getting ready for the summer ritual of high-speed thrills and spills on a waterway near you. With gasoline holding steady at well over $4.00 a gallon at the pump in the New York area it remains to be seen how much gratuitous squandering of fuel we’ll see locally this year, but there’s bound to be at least some who can still afford to open up the throttles…

…and let’er rip. This one’s blowing away the cars on Brooklyn’s Belt Parkway, while another crew of seasoned navigators…

…tears through the anchorage in Gravesend Bay. I guess they must have been running late trying to get to their boating safety classes!

Many avid fishers crowd close to deep-draft traffic, including conventional tugs towing barges astern, transiting the major shipping channels…

…like Ambrose, and often utterly fail to pay attention to where they drift and the danger they put themselves and others in. People get especially excited, and distracted, when they have a fish on. So it’s wise to always expect the worst from them. They are simply ignorant of the risks or don’t think it can happen to them, but it can and does. But serious attention gets paid only after someone gets killed. The Coast Guard has made efforts to cut down on the problem since 2005, calling it Operation Clear Channel, but it’s hard to say how effective it’s been. In any case, the Coastie’s are stretched thin with security duties taking precedence, so don’t expect any miracles.

Even in the parts of the harbor that appear to be strictly commercial shipping boulevards…

…you can expect to see the occasional yacht in close quarters. In fact, there are a few marinas hidden amongst the refineries and tank farms…

…like Port Johnson in Bayonne, NJ which is accessed by going underneath an IMTT pipeline.

Powerboats are not the only potential non-professional collision risk we face. Below, the Stephen-Scott maneuvers…

…through a gaggle of sail boats in New York Harbor’s Upper Bay. They may tack abruptly and without warning directly into your path, then stare in horror at you as you bear down on them.

Or you might even find yourself amongst serious racing teams…

…from Ireland and California to…

…Canada and China…

…to England, all right in the middle of New York Harbor.

Meanwhile, heading to sea may offer no relief at all. When headed “down” or “up the beach,” local tugboater slang for traversing the Atlantic Ocean along the New Jersey shore between New York Harbor and Delaware or Chesapeake Bays,…

…you will still find the same types of close-quarters situations you thought you had left behind back in the harbor. These are often the worst kind, because your options are very limited maneuvering-wise when you’re towing astern and communications with the other vessel or vessels may be non-existent. Why people insist on getting unnecessarily close to one another like this when in wide-open waters I’ll never understand.

And don’t forget that human-propelled vessels…

…may appear where and when you least expect them to, even in thoroughly industrial waterways. Who the hell goes paddling in the Gowanus Canal? Obviously, some people do. Probably the same ones who lurk around the Erie Basin Cut in their kayaks, which is about as dangerous a place to do that as you can find. The chances of them understanding their surroundings in a meaningful way that might prevent easily-avoided tragedies is not terribly high, so beware.

Finally, always remember exactly who you’re dealing with. Not every pleasure boater is clueless, but many are. Just listen in on this couple who were not prepared…

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  1. Insert the “Serenity Prayer” here…..

  2. […] to spot for huge cargo vessels of all kinds travel fast and have limited maneuverability.  Read Towmasters post here If looking for specific "word" in archives, search […]

  3. Nothing like trying to get past Raritan River Yacht Club in a heavy breeze with light one alongside and trying to squeak by a dozen or so ORGAN DONORS on yer way to HESS First Reserve in the Raritan…

  4. hey! Swimmers! you forgot us swimmers!!!

  5. heap on us, too . . . we the bloggers, who try to get close . . . to understand

  6. The bloggers aren’t “back” because they never left. BTW, kayakers/ canoeists are referred to as speed bumps. As for swimmers? Ground beef.

    I don’t write this to be mean at all. We who do this job understand people’s attraction very well, but sometimes it’s very dangerous to get too close, whether out of fascination or ignorance of the risks. It’s easy to fall prey to the Icarus syndrome…

  7. good points, all

  8. Great post. We call them Organ Donors! The guys fishing out Ambrose are the worst. Doesn’t matter if you blow 5 whistles, they wait until you get close and start pulling anchors and starting motors, and had a few who of course the engines won’t start. Last year the USCG was supposed to be patrolling Ambrose, but only did it during the day in the middle of the week. Don’t forget the WAFI’s to who only think they have the right of way cause ther under sail.

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