Monday, June 28, 2010


Regular readers of my blog will know that one of the places I sail most frequently is Bristol Harbor, whether it be for the Tuesday night informal Laser racing or solo practice.

It feels like a pretty safe place generally. If I broke the mast or the boom on my Laser when sailing on my own there in the winter, I would probably wash up on some shore or other before my extremities froze or dropped off. And usually there's not so much traffic that I fear being run down by another boat.

Having said that I do keep clear of the Prudence Island Ferry. I suspect he wouldn't change course for the crazy old Laser geezer.

And there have been some heart-stopping moments on Tuesday nights when the Bristol YC A-cat fleet has been racing on a course that overlapped with ours. Those things are sooo fast and come up on you sooooo quietly.

I also keep an eye out for random motorboats and, if I'm not racing, usually change course to keep well out of their way. I'm never sure if anyone on board is actually looking where they are going.

Sounds as if the latter precaution is well worthwhile as there is news of a sailboat that was rammed amidships by a motorboat while racing last Wednesday evening in light winds in the harbor.

“It was 8:20 p.m., the wind had pretty much died out and the boats were drifting,” a witness on shore said.

“We were walking away when we heard a powerboat and a woman on board just whooping it up. Then there was an incredible crash — it sounded like an explosion.”

The 31 foot Beneteau ended up with a huge gaping hole amidships. Both people on the motorboat, a 21 foot Boston Whaler, were injured but the crew on the yacht were all in the cockpit abaft of the point of impact and so escaped without serious injury.

The forces of law and order have surmised that "speed was clearly a possible cause."

I should say so.

The picture below (stolen shamelessly from shows the hole in the side of the yacht with part of the deck of the powerboat hanging out.

Yikes. It's a dangerous world out there kiddies. It's not you, it's the other guy you need to worry about. Especially those evil powerboat drivers. Keep a good lookout. Play safe.


Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

Power boaters drink behind the wheel more than sailors do because (a) power boating is boring and (b) they're power-boaters.

Tillerman said...

I have not heard that alcohol was a factor in this crash. Sometimes people do stupid things when they are sober too. I know I have.

Dan said...

We have had similar occurances in Puget Sound. A few years ago, a large powerboat T-boned a J35. The result was was similar to the pics you showed. Seems that the powerboat was on autopilot and the skipper was away from the helm. The J35 was in a race in drifting conditions.

And more recently, a powerboat ran into a Santa Cruz 70 that was sailing with paying passengers. In that case, the powerboat skipper had some kind of collapse and was unconcious when he hit the SC70. Much damage was done.

Be careful out there!

Tillerman said...

Right, these kinds of accidents are not all that rare.

There was one near here on Buzzards Bay a couple of years ago when a 63-foot powerboat hit a 35-foot sailboat at 20 knots and killed the skipper of the sailboat. Apparently the driver of the powerboat was setting a way-point on his GPS rather than looking where he was going.

EscapeVelocity said...

Powerboaters drink behind the wheel more than sailors do because a lot of sailboats have tillers :).

Most of the serious accidents around here seem to be powerboat on powerboat (jetski on jetski is by far the largest category, but not usually as serious--at least they all have PFDs on).

bonnie said...

Fear of being hit by a powerboat is the #1 reason that I wear my lifejacket any time I'm paddling in NYC (or really anyplace where I'm going to be mixing with motorcraft at all).

Glad to hear no one died in this one, although the owner of the yacht must be distraught.

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

Well, I should not be one to say that power boaters never do any good. Know how I got my current slip? Ten years ago, its then occupant - a wooden power boat - was rammed up its arse by a fiberglass power boat. Sunk in its slip. But other than serving on station as race committees or rescue vehicles, power boats have no socially redeeming characteristics. As documented in comments above, they frequently do the most damage on the water. So, my conclusion is that the best power boats are submarine, if you get my meaning.

Brent J. Burrows II said...

Wow, thats really unfortunate for the owner of the sailboat... Would the power-boater face criminal charges in this case?

Tillerman said...

It's possible Brent. The case is still under investigation.

The powerboater who caused the death of a sailboater in Buzzards Bay in 2008 that I mentioned did face criminal charges. He pleaded guilty to negligent operation of a vessel and was given a one year suspended sentence, ten years probation and banned from boating for three years.

Apparently the sentencing is similar to what it would been had it been a motor vehicle accident because the driver had no prior criminal record and was proven not to be using drugs or alcohol at the time.

Carol Anne said...

What amazes me is how often the operators of powerboats expect sailboats to get out of their way -- even if we have no wind with which to accomplish that feat. They seem to believe that because they're going faster, they have the right-of-way. I've been cursed at for not skedaddling out of a powerboat's intended path.

Law enforcement for negligent powerboats does seem to mirror that for motorists on land -- those without prior convictions will get minimal punishment. However, insurance companies WILL make their own sort of enforcement. The powerboater's insurance company will have to make a huge payment of damages, and then will hit the powerboater with a nasty premium increase, or revoke the policy.

Of course, that's cold consolation to the owners of the sailboat that the powerboaters have totaled.

Pat said...

Clear Lake California is not a good place to be a sailboater, as Bismarck Dinius found out the hard way when an off-duty sheriff's deputy rammed his boat and killed a passenger -- and then the deputy was let off the hook and Bismarck was charged for the death! That's a case that sailors have been following with outrage for some time and finally there seems to be a more just resolution coming.

O Docker said...

As Pat notes, the Dinius case is an almost unbelievable example of not only the dangers high-speed powerboats pose to sailors and kayakers, but also of how small-town good ol' boy politics are alive and well in Amurica.

This is a very convoluted story that takes some time to get through, but a great read if you do have the time. To their credit, Latitude 38 has done a great job of bird-dogging this one and events have finally proven the conclusions they drew from day one were absolutely right.

Some links here and here (second story down) summarize the important bits, but there are many more links here if you're fascinated by this story.

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