"FOLLY at the FIREWORKS"
By Lt. Dara Brooks, P

 

Truth can be stranger than fiction is what we can attest to on one of the most beautiful evenings of the summer as we anchored on the U.S. side of the Detroit River waiting for the annual fireworks display. With calm waters and a spectacular view of both the American and Canadian riverfronts and waters less populated with other boaters probably due to our severe economic times we basked in one of life’s greater moments.

Then, like a sudden storm blowing out of nowhere we were all thrown into attention. A 27’ Searay with four aboard was coming at us twisting and turning. Captain Mitch Gawrysiak leaped into place and raced forward warning them off, but the little boat kept coming. A man was sitting on the port side gunnel with line in hand looking and listening but somehow oblivious to our shouts. “Move your boat away!” we shouted and for a brief moment we heard the engine of the smaller craft but saw little reaction. We all looked in amazement because he’d dropped his anchor right on top of ours.

Holy Christ! Amongst shouts and hooks we tried to ward the little boat off but it kept coming and coming and coming. Finally, like a freight train the little boat T-boned the 41’ Formula PC Miss Print. With a noise that brought everyone’s mouth to full open position and an unbelievable crash Miss Print punched a severe crease in the port side of the little vessel just in front of the power line connection, it folded like today’s cheap aluminum cans. “Get your boat out of here!” we shouted again. The little boat shifted away due to the impact but began coming at us again sideways. “Pull up your anchor”, other boaters began to shout. We raced along the starboard side of Miss Print pushing the other vessel away but it kept coming. Finally, someone shouted, “Cut the line”.

First mate Nancy raced below and returned with a knife. By this time the line was under Miss Print and in danger of wrapping around the props. Just as the little boat went behind us Captain Mitch raced to the stern, lying on the swim platform while Nancy held his feet he reached in the water for the line. With one motion he sliced through the line and the little boat was adrift. The man sitting on the gunnel yelled, “You cut my line!” We all shook our heads in disgust then pulled in the line until we saw the tiny anchor attached to the other end.

Now out of harm’s way, we all let out a breath of relief. Then a boat rear aft of our port side shouted that they’d photographed the MC numbers. The appropriate information was exchanged and arrangements made to get the photograph. Captain Mitch reached for the radio mike and contacted the Coast Guard as we all kept an eye on the position of the little vessel that seemed to be moving away. Moments later the Coast Guard pursued and boarded her. Luckily the damage to Miss Print was just the loosening of the spotlight mounted on the bow.

This incident is a perfect example of why the course offerings of the Detroit Power Squadron are so important. Had the owner of the other boat taken any classes he would have understood the importance of reading the wind, the current and positioning his anchor properly so that he was not placing others in jeopardy. He should have also known something about the waters he was in.

Had he done any research he would have known that as the river moves toward the Ambassador Bridge it is at its deepest of between thirty-five and fifty feet with a bed of sand and clay. The area we were in, between the tip of Belle Isle and the Ambassador Bridge is almost as deep. The US Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District website is full of helpful information for the local boater and could have been a last minute asset. Throwing his anchor off the side rather than the bow of his boat contributed to his difficulty and surely the lack of length of his line was also a factor. He should have calculated the amount of anchor line he needed by taking the depth of the river and allowing anywhere from five to seven times as much anchor line as water depth then add a couple of feet to allow for the distance between where the anchor attaches to the bow and the waterline. Had he known anything about anchoring he never would have dropped where he did.

If at least one other person aboard his vessel understood boating they could have steered under power as they began to get into trouble. Better yet, they would have informed him that his anchoring techniques were grossly flawed. Unfortunately, his passengers all looked on in amazement as the event unfolded thus adding to the eventual damage. The owner of that vessel learned a hard and costly lesson. Besides endangering others you can be sure one of the tickets he should have been sited for was not having an anchor.