Run­ning Rough Ocean In­lets

Sport Fishing - - CONTENTS - By Jim Hen­dricks

“Hang on tight, but be ready to jump.”

I still re­mem­ber that un­set­tling ad­vice de­liv­ered 35 years ago from our skip­per Ed Pitts as he pointed his 25-foot sin­gle-out­board Hy­draS­ports cen­ter con­sole to­ward the wave-swept in­let to Cal­i­for­nia’s Ocean­side Har­bor.

It was my first such ex­pe­ri­ence. A big storm raged hun­dreds of miles away. We had en­joyed pleas­ant weather while fish­ing, but the dis­tant tem­pest gen­er­ated an on­slaught of combers that be­gan pound­ing the coast at the same time as our af­ter­noon re­turn.

Lack of re­cent chan­nel dredg­ing re­sulted in a bar that thrust the big, long-pe­riod swells into steep, moun­tain­ous waves. They curled, broke and boomed like thun­der at the nar­row en­trance.

We weren’t alone. A fleet of boats hov­ered out­side the har­bor mouth, as­sess­ing the sit­u­a­tion. But for us, it was worse. A pro­pel­ler with a worn hub had started to slip on the way home but seemed to re­gain its pre­car­i­ous grip. For now.

De­spite the com­pli­ca­tion — and af­ter a bit of de­lib­er­a­tion — Pitts de­cided to head in. We donned life jack­ets, and with his ad­vice still ring­ing in my ears, I se­cured a white-knuckle grip on the con­sole grab rail. He eased the throt­tle ahead and ac­cel­er­ated to­ward the har­bor mouth.

Our tim­ing was bad. Al­most im­me­di­ately, a rac­ing wall of water rose up from astern. It would surely over­take us. Pitts re­acted swiftly, bring­ing the 25-footer about to as­cend the face of the swell be­fore it broke. Once on the back­side, he quickly spun around and fol­lowed the big wave home.

In­side the har­bor, bob­bing in the froth left by the crash­ing seas, we heaved a col­lec­tive sigh of re­lief. We would live to fish an­other day.

An ironic truth of salt­wa­ter fish­ing holds that some of the rough­est water of­ten erupts just as you’re de­part­ing from or re­turn­ing to port. From in­lets along the south shore of New York’s Long Is­land to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and cuts along Florida’s east coast to the har­bors of the Pa­cific Coast, boat­ing an­glers face some of the world’s most chal­leng­ing sea con­di­tions.

It’s not just waves. A com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors turns in­lets nasty. A pow­er­ful out­go­ing tide stream­ing through a nar­row chan­nel and a strong on­shore wind can pile up seas. Com­bine these two fac­tors with shoal­ing and shift­ing chan­nels, and you have waves that are not only steep, but also packed tightly and break­ing. In places such as North Carolina’s Ore­gon In­let, treach­er­ous water can stretch for a mile or more. Not fun.


Be­fore you tackle a dicey in­let, re­search the con­di­tions, says boat­ing an­gler Bren­dan Strum of Man­teo, North Carolina, who’s run in and out of Hat­teras and Ore­gon in­lets for more than 30 years, chas­ing bluefin tuna, mahi, mar­lin, wa­hoo and other species. While Strum now runs a Reg­u­la­tor 31 with twin Yamaha 300 out­boards, much of his ex­pe­ri­ence run­ning in­lets came aboard a Reg­u­la­tor 25 with twin Yamaha 200s.

“Talk to other peo­ple, es­pe­cially if you have not been out for a week or more,” Strum im­plores. “Our in­lets change from day to day, so I al­ways call guys I know to get the lat­est in­for­ma­tion.”

Ex­pand­ing your base of fish­ing friends and shar­ing in­for­ma­tion ranks as one of the most im­por­tant facets of in­let safety. “Never as­sume you’re an ex­pert, no mat­ter how much ex­pe­ri­ence you have,” ad­vises Strum, who con­fesses to be­ing ner­vous ev­ery time he crosses the bar at Ore­gon In­let. “You need to lis­ten to oth­ers who’ve run the in­lets in the past day or two.”

If you are un­fa­mil­iar with an in­let, con­sider hir­ing a guide with strong knowl­edge of the in­let to show you the way. Use your chart plot­ter to record the track. Keep in mind, how­ever, that the safest course can change quickly.

Stay posted on the lat­est weather con­di­tions and tides, us­ing on­line re­sources such as Buoy Weather and NOAA ma­rine weather, check­ing not only for your de­par­ture time, but also for your an­tic­i­pated re­turn time.


“A strong out­go­ing tide is al­ways cause for con­cern,” says Capt. Eric Davis of Vero Beach, Florida. Davis guides an­glers aboard his Pathfinder 2500 pow­ered by a Yamaha 350. He reg­u­larly runs in and out of Fort Pierce, Se­bas­tian and St. Lu­cie (aka Stu­art) in­lets. “When the wind pushes waves against an out­flow­ing cur­rent, it can make things danger­ous, es­pe­cially when com­ing in,” Davis points out.

Take some time to as­sess the in­let be­fore mak­ing your run. Study the cy­cle of waves; there is of­ten a rhythm to them. Long-pe­riod swells, for in­stance, of­ten roll through in sets, with a slight lull in be­tween.

Ob­vi­ously, you want to cross where the waves are smaller. For this rea­son, Davis of­ten avoids the deep­est water in the middle of the chan­nel when there is a strong out­go­ing tide. “The middle of the chan­nel is usu­ally where the cur­rent is strong­est,” he says. “Hang to the side, where the waves are of­ten smaller and tend not to break as much, but also avoid any po­ten­tially danger­ous shoals.”

This ad­vice ap­plies to smaller boats, such as Davis’ Pathfinder 2500 bay boat, which don’t draw a lot of water. Larger, deep-draft sport-fish­ers, by ne­ces­sity, need to stay in the middle of the chan­nel to avoid ground­ing. Big­ger boats are also bet­ter at han­dling larger waves.

To find the smoothest line, Davis rec­om­mends run­ning on the down­wind side of the main chan­nel when you’re out­side the pro­tec­tion of the jet­ties, us­ing the south side when the wind is out of north/north­east and the north side when the wind is from the south/south­east. WAIT IT OUT Wait­ing a few hours for a slack tide can make the dif­fer­ence be­tween a calm cross­ing and a calami­tous one. “An in­com­ing or slack tide tends to flat­ten out the waves in in­lets such as Jupiter and Stu­art,” Davis has dis­cov­ered. This can mean cooling your heels for as long as five hours. If you’re com­ing back in the af­ter­noon, that’s a long wait.

An­other op­tion is to run to an­other, moreuser-friendly in­let. Though it will take time and you’ll burn more fuel, in­creased safety and peace of mind can make the ex­tra miles worth­while.

On days when the in­let is rag­ing, let pru­dent sea­man­ship pre­vail. “If it’s ques­tion­able, don’t go out,” Strum says. Your crew might be dis­ap­pointed, but as the cap­tain, it’s your job to make sure ev­ery­one stays safe. SIZE AND POWER The size of your boat counts. The last thing you want is a boat that’s too small to han­dle steep seas, Davis says. “You need to know the lim­i­ta­tions of your boat ahead of time,” he adds. “You don’t want to be chal­leng­ing steep 6- to 8-foot waves in a 20-footer.”

Hav­ing a high horse­power-to-weight ra­tio can also help keep you safe, Davis says. Power be­comes es­pe­cially im­por­tant when try­ing to stay ahead of a break­ing wave while re­turn­ing. (See side­bar for tips on how to han­dle the boat in a rough in­let.)

Ne­go­ti­at­ing a rough in­let turns far more dif­fi­cult when you can’t see clearly. Strum’s ad­vice is to wait un­til day­light be­fore you head out, and re­turn be­fore night­fall. If there’s heavy fog or tor­ren­tial rain, wait un­til it clears be­fore cross­ing the bar.

Low vis­i­bil­ity also height­ens the risk of col­li­sion with a jetty, break­wall, buoy or other ves­sels. More than one boat has run into a rock jetty while ne­go­ti­at­ing an in­let at night or in fog. If you must run an in­let in these con­di­tions, use your radar and chart plot­ter to avoid col­li­sions.

In­lets serve as gate­ways to many great fish­ing ad­ven­tures. With these tips, a sea­wor­thy ves­sel, suf­fi­cient power and a good mea­sure of pru­dent sea­man­ship, you will be able to meet the chal­lenge of rough in­lets, and cross over the bar to find fish and re­turn safely time and again.

Search-and-res­cue au­thor­i­ties such as the U.S. Coast Guard and boater as­sis­tance or­ga­ni­za­tions in­clud­ing BoatUS (pic­tured here) some­times stand by when in­lets are rag­ing, al­low­ing them to re­spond quickly to lend a hand in case of an emer­gency.

In­lets along the West Coast of the U.S. are of­ten sub­jected to large, long­pe­riod ground swells gen­er­ated far out at sea. These swells build into enor­mous waves that break vi­o­lently as they roll into the rel­a­tively shal­low water of har­bor en­trances.

Big boats can also en­counter trou­ble when run­ning in­lets. This im­age of the sport-fisher Wa­ter­dog shows the boat side­ways to the seas at Jupiter In­let, list­ing to port be­fore it snap-rolled to star­board, eject­ing the cap­tain, re­sult­ing in a tragic...

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.