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Two tales of the sea

December 4, 2013
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

To the editor:

Below are two "Tales of the Sea." They are separated by several years and hundreds of miles, yet they are related. And they are both true.

The first happened eight or nine years ago when I was sailing with friends on their 50-foot ketch, on a passage from Norfolk, Va., to Bermuda. The second night out, we were about two-hundred miles offshore. It was 3 a.m., and I was alone on watch, my friends both sleeping below.

Suddenly, the VHF radio crackled, "Eastbound sailboat at approximate position (GPS coordinates), this is United States Navy Carrier Two."

I quickly realized, "Whoa! That's us," and dutifully responded, "This is the sailing vessel 'Valhalla' to the vessel hailing." The voice then asked, "What is your bearing and speed?" I told him and he said, "Captain, we are closing on you from the north. I'm going to alter our course fifteen degrees to starboard (right) and we will pass approximately two miles behind your stern." I acknowledged his statement and thanked him and he responded crisply, "You have a safe passage out there, Captain. This is United States Navy Carrier Two Out!"

I looked to the north and saw this wall of white lights coming over the horizon right at me. It slowly changed its direction and, as promised, this floating city passed about two miles behind my stern.

The carrier was, of course, competently following the rules of the road. As a sailboat under sail, I was the "stand-on" vessel and he was the "give-way" vessel. Furthermore, I was in his right-front quadrant which gives me right-of-way even if I were a motorboat.

(These rules notwithstanding, there is an unwritten rule that everybody who goes on the ocean in a small boat should know. It's called the "Rule of Gross Tonnage." What it says is that if you are on a collision course with a vessel that outweighs you several hundred times over, you don't sit there invoking your rights, you get the hell out of its way.)

I spent the rest of my watch in awed wonderment. After all, a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier had just altered course to keep us both safe. This was an incident I'll remember the rest of my life.

The other tale happened just a few Sundays ago about a mile or so off Fort Myers Beach.

We were out on our boat having a lovely day-sail down the coast. The breeze was 12 to 15 knots from the shore so the seas were flat. We were making a little better than five knots. A pod of dolphins had just spent several minutes playing in our bow wave. It doesn't get any better.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, this guy on a jet-ski came screaming up behind us. He had one small kid with him on the jet-ski and was towing two others on an inner tube about 15 feet behind. He passed us on the right and then cut sharply left directly in front of our path not more than two boat-lengths away. As I watched to be sure he had cleared, one of the kids fell off the tube practically right in front of us. I frantically veered off and missed the kid by perhaps 20 feet.

I'm still seething about the incident.

I have a message for that jet-ski operator: "You (bleeping-bleep) of an (expletive.)!! Do you have any idea what a disaster you almost caused? My boat weighs 28,000 pounds. It doesn't stop or turn on a dime. If you had had the sense to pass behind, there would have been no problem. Because of your ignorance of the rules, incompetence and stupidity, that kid could have been severely injured, or even killed if I had hit him.

Had the worst happened, there isn't any court, maritime or civil, that wouldn't have placed all the blame directly on you. Nonetheless, even though I'd be found blameless, I would still have to live with the knowledge that a child lost his life because my boat ran him over."

This, too, is an incident I'll remember the rest of my life. I wish I could be sure the jet-ski operator will remember it, too.

Jay Light

Fort Myers Beach



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