When you are far out at sea, on a boat dead in the water, and the Coast Guard radio operator advises you to secure all hatches, put on life vests and asks for a checklist of safety gear, that’s the time to worry.
The time to prepare and plan for the worst is before you leave the dock.
The topic is on my mind because last week I described how a pleasant offshore fishing trip for Dave Kadison and Gary Mirando of Vineyard Haven turned into a frightening overnight return trip home at the end of a Good Samaritan’s towrope (“A good deed repaid during a harrowing offshore trip”).
It was the second week in a row that I described an offshore misadventure. In this incident, as with the one I described earlier (July 22, “Live Wire had no power, no electronics and was very far from home“), there are lessons to be learned from those directly involved.
When I spoke to Dave about his adventure I asked him about any lessons learned. “A satellite phone is key,” Dave said. “I’m glad I had that.”
Satellite phones are not inexpensive. A quick glance of the West Marine catalog shows a Motorola with 500 minutes of airtime sells for $2,499. Amazon sells just a phone for about $1,100.
A big game tuna rod and reel with line costs close to $2,000. Tell me which you would rather have while floating without power 100 miles south of the Vineyard? Another tuna rod or a sat phone?
Good Samaritan Terry Nugent used Dave’s anchor line to fashion a towrope. During the long trip back the towline snapped several times. Dave said it is important to have a strong anchor line that can double as a towline. “I just ordered new anchor line, 5/8 inch, 250-feet,” he told me.
One of the scariest moments of the trip was undoubtedly when Dave and Gary decided that they needed to have their survival suits close at hand.
Also known as an immersion suit, it is bright orange, made from neoprene, and will keep you afloat and protect against exposure, a risk even in temperate summer water temperatures. An immersion suit costs about $500.
Dave’s immersion suits were stored in their bags in the cabin. He had never had them out.
When Dave and Gary pulled the suits out of their storage bags the suits were moldy and stank of mildew. “Keep them dry, keep them clean,” Dave said.
At the height of the squall that hit and with lightning striking close by, the men stood on their survival suits in the hope it might protect them should the boat be struck. The fact is they likely would have been toast. Another more reassuring fact is that lighting strikes are rare at sea.
Charles Klinck, an experienced boater and sailor, dropped off his copy of “Chapman Piloting and Seamanship,” the must-have reference book for anyone serious about seamanship.
There is a comprehensive description of lighting risks and precautions under the chapter “Safety Afloat.” Recommendations include: Stay inside a closed boat as much as possible, keep hands and feet out of the water and put on a PFD because if you are hit by lightning you may become unconscious and fall overboard.
Boaters can rig what is known as a “Faraday’s cage,” a lightning protection system that creates a well-grounded metal structure around the boat’s occupants. The essential principal is to provide the lightning with a direct and low resistance path through the vessel to the water. Fiberglass radio antennas do not provide a low-resistance path.
Chapman’s also includes some valuable advice for boaters who plan to tow another vessel. There is too much information for this column but there is more involved than just hooking up a rope.
Chapman’s recommends double-braided nylon line and says the worst possible place to make the towline fast is to the stern of the towing boat, because it limits the boat’s maneuverability. And “a steady pull at a reasonable speed will get you to your destination with far less strain on boats, lines, and crewmembers.”
Of course, the best course is to leave the towing to the professionals. BoatU.S. (towboatns.com) and Sea Tow (seatow.com) operate in our waters and offer tow insurance plans.
Cape-based charter captain and Massachusetts state trooper Terry Nugent maintained a cool presence at the helm and on the radio throughout the ordeal. He told me that mechanical failures of the sort that stranded the Poco Loco could never be foreseen.
If there is a lesson to be learned he said it is to be prepared. “Both boats had ample safety gear and knew how to deal with the situation,” Terry said.
He said he never thought at any point that they would end up in the water but if they had, he said, the boat was well prepared.
It was quite a trip for Gary Mirando. He told me, “You really have to be prepared to be on your own out there. It is truly a wild adventure kind of place.”
Gary said he and Dave were very lucky. “You just don’t know if anyone will be available to help,” he said.
Launch ramp courtesy
The Lagoon Pond launch ramp was a very busy place over the weekend. Sunday, there was not a spot to park a trailer by late morning.
Space is limited. It would certainly help the situation if when people arrive in separate cars they double up in a parking space.
On the same topic, Massachusetts Environmental Police sergeant Matt Bass has been very helpful about tracking down the owners of boat trailers and boats left parked for extended periods of time in the launch ramp lot.
A few weeks ago, a fisherman called to report three trailers left in the lot. I passed the information on to Sergeant Bass and the trailers were removed.
It is a small issue but one that can ruin someone’s day off when he or she arrives and a needed parking space is occupied. The Island is lucky to have an EPO who is willing to take the time to address the small issues.
Rumors but no splashes
Rumors of bonito abound. Occasional fish have been picked up trolling but I have yet to verify any significant influx of bonito into our waters. I did run into Steve Maxner Tuesday afternoon, who reported that his son Noah had spotted several fish off State Beach that morning. Both men know bonito and are reputable sources. The usual places to troll a fast trac lure include Hedge Fence, the hooter, State Beach and Tashmoo.
Speaking of bonito, the notion that fishing is poor where the state public access board wants to build a public fishing pier is not borne out by my experience. I have caught striped bass fly-fishing from the shore exactly where the pier would be built and watched bonito and false albacore break just out of casting range.
A pier would attract baitfish that would attract more fish. Kids would catch fluke, scup, and sea robins as they now do during the Derby on the one morning that fishing is allowed on the Steamship pier.