On these pages I’ve had occasion to speak of certain power boat operators I’ve come across in derogatory terms. I hate to generalize – I really do. I have every confidence that there are plenty of skilled and responsible power boaters (I know some of them, and some read this blog!!) and plenty of lousy sailboaters as well. But for whatever reason – maybe there are more powerboaters, maybe the sport attracts a different mentality, or maybe power boats’ relative ease of operation lulls their skippers into over confidence – I seem to see much more foolish or irresponsible behavior on the part of power boaters than I do sail boaters.
Leaving Newport this Friday, I took in a spectacle that bests them all. But before I get into it, a little background on the entrance to the Narragansett Bay for those who have yet to cruise this region. This body of water between Fort Adams and Castle Hill is * extremely * heavily traveled by both commercial and pleasure boat traffic. It’s a major shipping zone with everything from car carriers to barges under tow moving through each day. Because of the density of yacht traffic interacting with shipping traffic, those listening to Channel 16 will hear a ‘security’ call each time a commercial vessel passes through. This section of the bay is also narrow and presents yacht operators with heavy currents. When sailing through there single handed I often mused that sailing upwind in the Sabre out the Bay felt like racing a go kart in one’s basement. Hit a shore, tack. Uh oh, ship coming, better tack again! There’s that shore again, but don’t tack until that sport fish has gone by. <Wipe brow>. Add it all up, and it’s a body of water that demands plenty of respect.
So back to my narrative. This past Friday I had just departed Newport Harbor and wound up making a Channel 16 ‘security’ call of my own after seeing a huge (30 gallon?) plastic water drum floating just below the surface off of the Form Adams wall. I’m on a sailboat going just under 7 knots, so it probably wouldn’t hurt me. Still I made the call because I knew it could seriously ruin a power boater’s day. The Coast Guard heard the call and asked me to change to a working channel to ask more about what I’d seen and where. The Coastie radio operator asked for and noted the details using the normal militaristic formal-speak, but then abruptly changed tone and sounded genuinely, personally grateful when he thanked me as we concluded the call. He mentioned he was going to call the Newport Harbor Master so they could attempt to locate the object.
I switched to Channel 16 and continued on my way South, and as I did so I pondered why the Coastie had seemed so appreciative of – and almost surprised by – my security broadcast. Just as I was mulling these thoughts I caught sight of a large sport fish heading north, which turned to starboard and crossed my path. As the sport fish did so, I caught sight of it towing something and gasped when I realized what it was. Apologies for the photo quality because I had little time to whip out my iPhone to record it. Here is the unzoomed photo:
Can you tell what is being towed? Let me zoom in.
That’s the operators small children riding in a small inflatable tender. Effectively, tubing, using their tender. In the middle of the Narragansett shipping channel. During a very strong flood current. At full planing speed. Watching the way it bounced at those speeds, it would only have taken one power boat wake to have pitched those kids 5 feet into the air and out of the tender.
It occurred to me that in the convergence of these two events – the Coastie’s appreciative reaction to my security broadcast and seeing this abjectly reckless stupidity – the second event probably explained the first.