In­sti­tut­ing some safety prac­tices but ne­glect­ing oth­ers cre­ated a wild night for this boater.

Boating - - NEWS - Don­ald Bolton Beryl, Utah

Some­times you learn the hard way about watch­ing weather

The Saint Lawrence River will al­ways be a chal­lenge for any size boat. Strong cur­rents are the rule. Big ships ply these wa­ters.

One night in 1995, I launched my 1972 Bos­ton Whaler in Chippewa Bay, New York. The prim­i­tive chan­nel had no mark­ers or lights, just wind­ing shoals and rocks. A safe re­turn on a calm night might only be pos­si­ble with radar, night vi­sion and GPS. All I had were a road map and a com­pass. I se­cured the kill-switch safety lan­yard, and the new 75 hp mo­tor and depth finder came to life. A 6 hp “get home” mo­tor was in place (it helped catch more fish too), and I had a spot­light. I was on a timetable, just off work.

The VHF ra­dio re­ported a chance of storms, and at 11 p.m. it was 85 de­grees F with 90 per­cent hu­mid­ity and calm. That was ab­nor­mal for this lat­i­tude and a big tip-off to stay home. I de­cided to an­chor un­til morn­ing.

At 3 a.m., with­out warn­ing, my pro­tected anchorage be­came a caul­dron of hell. The flare gun was loaded; the air horn was in reach. I stayed low and kept my cool. This was the first time I ever wore a life jacket, a Type I fit­ted with a strobe, re­flec­tive patches, whis­tle, and a length of line I could use to tie my­self to an over­turned boat.

I heard the bilge pump kick in.

Later, the weather ser­vice would re­port doc­u­mented mi­croburst winds in ex­cess of 100 mph. My Bi­mini top (I should have doused it) looked like a prop from the tor­nado scene in The Wizard of

Oz. All three fluke an­chors de­ployed off the bow pulled out of the grassy bot­tom. Power on­shore was out for a week in the area.

I should have heeded the weather fore­cast and my in­stinct about the odd weather con­di­tions for my boat­ing area. I should have used an an­chor bet­ter-suited to tall grass, or con­sulted a nau­ti­cal chart, which would have told me the com­po­si­tion of the bot­tom at dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions, un­like my road map. Marine elec­tron­ics are cheap, rel­a­tive to the ben­e­fit they pro­vide, and would have helped me greatly. I should not have left my Bi­mini top up; it got ru­ined and un­doubt­edly added windage that aided in the an­chors pulling out. I should not have put my sched­ule in front of safety fac­tors.

I now live in Utah, and I hope to ap­ply my les­sons as I con­sider us­ing that same old Bos­ton Whaler on Lake Pow­ell.

I should have heeded the weather fore­cast and my in­stinct about the odd weather con­di­tions for my boat­ing area.

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