I read of another boating fatality, this time off Pender island. What a tragic loss for friends and family.
As anyone who spends any time on these waters knows, it is anarchy out there. Things have quieted enormously over the last few years as the cost of fuel has risen, but not very long ago it could be quite risky manoeuvring in some narrow harbour entrances. It was not uncommon to have 20 or more boats approaching Ganges harbour in the summer, and many of them doing well over twenty or thirty knots.
As a sailor, I always viewed these vessels with a jaundiced eye. Speed rather than caution seemed to be the ethos of many of these skippers.
I’m not saying that was the case for this poor man from Pender. Accidents happen. Apparently, it was quite late in the evening (around 8PM) and he had swerved to avoid hitting a deadhead. A friend was following behind in another boat. When he swerved to avoid the deadhead the other boat smashed into him, killing him.
As a sailor, I’m used to some pretty tame speeds. A good breeze will have me loping along somewhere between 6 and 7 knots. Even at such a rate, I’m amazed at how fast untoward things can happen on the water; it only takes a second of inattention and things can get very dicey. I can’t even imagine what it is like when doing 30 knots.
Coming back from our last sail I had a whale watch boat – loaded down with passengers – buzz my stern by no more than maybe 5 metres. The skipper cheerily waved as he blasted by, doing well over 30 knots and throwing a huge wake. If I had a flare gun in my hand I would have shot a flare over his head. As it was all I could do was respond to his wave with a one-fingered salute.
Jaun de Fuca Strait is what, twenty miles wide? And in all that space he had to come within a hairsbreadth of my boat? And this is supposed to be a professional captain!
I can’t imagine what he was thinking, especially considering the precious cargo he was responsible for. By coming so close and at such a speed he was taking a totally unacceptable risk with all of us. And this has been my experience with a great number of skippers with powerful boats – a seeming belief in the infallibility of both their equipment and their skills.
In terms of this sad accident, I have to wonder about the speeds these two boats were running at given the conditions. It seems that if such abrupt manoeuvres were required to avoid an obstacle in the water, they were going too fast given the low light. Deadheads can be very hard to spot at the best of times. And obviously the following boat was too close in that he was unable to safely respond to his friend’s sudden change in direction across his bow.
If people in power boats would slow down, or at the very least give themselves and others a wide berth, accidents like this need not happen. Boat collisions should be avoidable. But as in the case of the whale watching boat the skipper decided to take it close, to take the risk that nothing untoward would happen. Most of the time they will be right. But when they are wrong, apologies will be insufficient.