This crash on water is one for books

OUTDOORS

July 17, 2005|By CANDUS THOMSON

IT'S A SUMMER DAY on the Chesapeake Bay.

A fishing boat is anchored at a well-known spot.

The owner of a bigger boat, moving at a good clip, approaches from behind, believing he is overtaking a moving vessel.

The operator of the larger boat should:

a) slow down and figure out what's going on;

b) slow down and give the smaller boat a wide berth;

c) slow down and try to raise the other boat by radio or horn;

d) party on, Garth.

If eyewitnesses, including Coast Guard-licensed skippers, are to be believed, the operator of the large boat chose a variation on "d" on July 7.

Natural Resources Police officers are still investigating the ramming of the charter boat Jil Carrie by the cabin cruiser Price Pirate. Each skipper has told investigators and The Sun the story from the perspective of his helm. As might be expected, the versions are in conflict.

But even without the benefit of the police report, a couple of things are clear: Keith David Price, 42, the operator of the cabin cruiser, needs a little book learning. He could start with a volume of Coast Guard regulations and finish up with a reading of the Good Book.

The day after The Sun published a story on the crash that quoted witnesses, Price called the newspaper to insist we had done him wrong.

According to Price, Capt. Jim Brincefield, owner of the Jil Carrie, and Capt. Bill Fish, owner of another charter boat, Mary Ellen, were illegally anchored in the Choptank River channel at the mouth of the bay when he happened upon them. He likened their action to "parking in the middle of I-95."

Price said visibility was not good. He said he thought the two boats were moving. He said he was steering from the lower of two consoles, which is why witnesses thought the boat was on autopilot. He said he never heard the warnings on the radio or the other boats' horns and never saw the frantic waves of frightened passengers.

In short, nothing was his fault.

Baloney. To quote the Coast Guard, there are three things boaters must do to prevent a collision:

1) Practice good seamanship. "It is the responsibility of every vessel operator to take all necessary action to avoid a collision, taking into account any special circumstances due to weather, vessel traffic and limits of other vessels. Such action should be taken in ample time to avoid a collision and at a safe distance from other vessels."

2) Keep a sharp lookout. "Failing to keep a proper lookout is the most common cause of collisions. Keep a close lookout at all times for other vessels, navigational hazards and others involved in water activities."

3) Maintain a safe speed. "Safe speed is the speed that insures you will have ample time to avoid a collision. Safe speed will vary depending on conditions such as wind, water conditions, visibility and surrounding vessel traffic. Always reduce speed and navigate with extreme caution when visibility is restricted."

So, if Price was on his best behavior and followed all three Coast Guard rules, how come he couldn't stop in time? If visibility was poor - and there's ample evidence that visibility was at least three miles - why didn't Price throttle back, move from the lower console to the upper one and post a lookout?

As to his argument that the two charter boats were illegally anchored in the channel, again we must turn to the rules. The anchoring restriction applies only to narrow channels, which the Choptank is not.

The river is marked for deep draft vessels, the type that used to bring goods upriver to Cambridge. Boaters know there is plenty of deep water on either side of the two channel markers - known as Can 5 and Can 6 - to allow safe passage of any boat with less than a 10-foot draft.

Both charter captains, witnesses and investigators have told me that the two charter boats were not between the cans.

But that aside, is Price saying he saw the two boats, but thought that because they were anchored illegally it was OK to ram one?

I wouldn't want to be his lawyer. But I might want the video game rights.

One more thing: As a boat overtaking an anchored vessel, Price was required to "take early and substantial action to keep well away from other vessels by stopping, slowing down or changing course," according to the rules.

By the looks of the damage to the stern of the Jil Carrie, Price was a tad slow on the uptake.

Luckily, no one died. For that, Price should sit down with that other book, the Bible.

It's a wonder, though, that there aren't more accidents.

When you look across the Chesapeake Bay on any weekend, it's hard to decide whether there's more traffic on the Bay Bridge or under it. The water is full of charter boats, pleasure boats, personal watercraft, sailboats and crabbers pulling up pots.

The same scene plays out on bay tributaries such as the Choptank.

Maryland law requires anyone born after 1972 to complete a boating safety class before operating a boat. But that still leaves thousands of skippers over the age of 33 (and folks operating illegally) unaccounted for.

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