Join Date: May 2007
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I was on my sailboat in the next harbor South of Portage Lake (Manistee). I listened to most of the exchange between the Coast Guard and the Barracuda.
The Barracuda (Mary), said their vessel draws 7 feet, 9 inches. My recent chart shows that the very center of the channel is 12 feet. Note that the chart says this is based on 1997 data. The lack of funding for harbor dredging has been in the news. Also note that the chart shows 12 feet in the center of the narrow channel with 4 to 8 feet at edges (again, 1997 data). Chart shows 12 feet off the entrance to the harbor (1997).
Previous poster's comment that actual depth in wave troughs should be considered and I would agree. Given the wind and waves, and the depths according to the chart, this is already some very skinny math.
Given the math, and the decade old data, is it prudent to trust the opinion of an Innkeeper? Would it make sense to radio the Coast Guard for an update on channel depth?
If the Barracuda "touched bottom" at the entrance to the Arcadia channel, would that act as a reminder to the skipper that actual depth and chart depth can be two different things? One good storm can significantly affect the depth because of shifting sand.
I drew two conclusions from the radio exchange between the Barracuda and the Coast Guard. 1. Mary, who was on the radio all or most of the time did a questionable job of advising the coast guard on the particulars of their situation. 2. The Coast Guard did an inadequate job of asking her questions to determine their conditions. Example: Mary told the Coast Guard that they had "water coming in". From the hatches? Through the companionway? The hull? Additional description may have been useful, such as, "we draw almost 8 feet, we believe we're in 6 feet of water, we're directly between the pier heads in 8 foot waves, we're listing at 25 degrees, we're pounding incessantly on the bottom, we currently have x amount of water on the cabin sole, and the water appears to be coming in through the bottom where the bolt-on keel attaches, and our electric and manual bilge pumps are failing to keep up. We are sinking, and unable to abandon our vessel for fear of being slammed into our boat or the pier".
It was clear that Mary was not the skipper and had limited experience. I don't know why the skipper didn't communicate or why the Coast Guard didn't ask for the skipper. At that point, I suspect there was little else the skipper could do for the boat.
We were on a week-long cruise from Muskegon, visiting Pentwater and Manistee. We were aware that dredging was unfunded and not performed. We learned that straight off the Pentwater pier (two ports to the South of Portage Lake) the depth was down to 6 feet and that the prudent approach was to avoid going straight in, but to come in at 90 degrees to the pier and turn to enter (we stayed in 8 feet + water with our 4.5 foot keel). Point is, this information was available.
Weather: We were anxious to go back South the same day that Barracuda sank. We looked at the weather forecast and decided, "why mess with it?". I'm not saying that the weather made the trip un-doable, but there was certainly risk that needed to be considered and accounted for.
I agree with the poster that warning should be provided at the un-dredged harbors. But, our inland sea can be a violent place requiring the prudent skipper to take everything into consideration.
I would like to know: Did the skipper know in advance that dredging was not being performed at some of the harbors? It begs credulity that an experienced skipper would not be aware of this and take the proper precautions. It's been in the papers, it's a topic of conversation in the marinas, and it's been written about extensively in the free publications (like Scuttlebut) that are available at the marinas. The prudent skipper has to be knowledgeable about the conditions where he expects to operate.
I dread the day when I make a decision that puts me in conditions I shouldn't be in, and that dread makes me extremely sympathetic toward the skipper of the Barracuda. Still, the safety of the Barracuda and its crew are on the skipper's shoulders, and this was an avoidable sinking.