Under Way - Soundings Online

Under Way

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My eyes glanced at the photo quickly, and my first thought was, What’s wrong with this picture? A second look. Ah yes, boats are not supposed to be stuck through the walls of rustic fishing retreats, even ones built on stilts over the water.

My eyes glanced at the photo quickly, and my first thought was, What’s wrong with this picture? A second look. Ah yes, boats are not supposed to be stuck through the walls of rustic fishing retreats, even ones built on stilts over the water.

Photos can lie — especially in this age of digital manipulation — but the pair you’re looking at on this page have not been doctored. And the story they tell is fairly straightforward: Things can go wrong in a hurry when you’re running a small boat at 55 mph. They can go wrong ever faster when you crank the wheel over hard, as the operator of this 23-footer apparently did.

 

 

Oops.

“They were probably going 55 to 60 mph,” says Gary Morse, a spokesman for the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. “And he just made a turn that was way too hard.”

The driver and his passenger were pitched out of the boat, which then raced on for a few hundred yards before hitting a small skiff moored alongside a stilt house off Port Richey, Fla. The runaway boat launched itself off the skiff, flew through the air, and impaled the side of the house at about 10:15 in the morning April 1. There were two adults and a child inside the house; they were shaken but unhurt. The driver injured his shoulder.

“If it didn’t hit the stilt house, it was headed for Panama City,” Morse says. “It was going to hit something, if it didn’t run out of fuel.”

The boat was a 23-foot Ranger powered by a 275-hp supercharged Mercury Verado. The driver, who wasn’t wearing a kill switch, was charged with operating at an unsafe speed.

“Two hundred and seventy-five horses on a 23-foot boat,” says Morse, 55, a longtime sailor, powerboater and graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. “Personally, I have to shake my head. When I grew up, 40 was a lot of horsepower.”

Morse understands why tournament anglers want as much speed as possible. But for the average Joe or Josephine?

“I think 35 to 40 mph on the water is pretty fast,” Morse says. “It’s fast enough for me. Obviously, it isn’t fast enough for everyone.”

It’s fast enough for me, too. The photos reminded me of something retired Coast Guard Capt. Bill Brogdon told me not long ago. We were talking about the problems caused by speed, and Brogdon mentioned the challenges faced by boaters who have a “40-knot vessel and a 20-knot brain.”

I’ve got nothing against going fast when conditions and circumstances warrant — you’re running offshore or the waters are mostly empty. Hey, it’s your fuel bill. But high-speed operation also demands more skill, more awareness and more responsibility from the skipper. As speeds climb, your reaction time and margin for error move in the opposite direction.

“Most people are unprepared to deal with vessels of that horsepower going that kind of speed,” Morse says of the runaway boat. “When I grew up, you didn’t ‘drive’ a boat; you operated one. Most people who had boats grew up in a boating family. They were taught courtesy, boat-handling skills, and respect for Mother Nature. Now, you can just plunk your money down and go real fast.”

The two photos provide a pretty clear picture of what happens when you make a mistake in the fast lane.