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Report: Improper anchoring caused boat accident
By CHRISTINE ARMARIO, Associated Press Writer

Tampa, Fla. (AP)-An agency investigating a deadly boating accident involving two NFL players and their friends in the Gulf of Mexico has concluded it was caused when the vessel was improperly anchored and the boat capsized after one of them tried to throttle forward to pry loose the anchor.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's investigation also cited carelessness and operator inexperience as contributing factors. The combination of errors came at the time a storm front was moving in, making conditions on the water very rough.

Oakland Raiders linebacker Marquis Cooper, free-agent NFL defensive lineman Corey Smith, and former University of South Florida players William Bleakley and Nick Schuyler departed from Clearwater Pass, Fla., early Feb. 28 to go offshore fishing for amberjack.

Schuyler, found clinging to the boat two days later, was the lone survivor. The other three men have not been found.

In an in-depth interview with the agency, Schuyler gave this account of the accident:

Early that morning, the men went more than 50 miles offshore in Cooper's 21-foot vessel. It was loaded with two large coolers filled with ice, drinks, food and beer. All of the friends were dressed in warm clothes, sweat suits and jackets.

Around 5:30 p.m., they went to pull up the anchor and head back to port, but the anchor was stuck. Bleakley suggested they tie it to the transom and use the boat's motor to pull it loose.

When Cooper tried to thrust the boat forward, the vessel became submerged and capsized, tossing the men overboard. All four tried uprighting the boat by standing on one side of the overturned vessel. When that didn't work, Bleakley swam underneath and was able to retrieve three life vests, a large cooler and a portable, cushion-type flotation device.

Bleakley, who Schuyler has credited with saving his life, used the makeshift flotation device, which has been described previously as a cushion. The other three wore the vests.

The men appear to have tried everything in their power to rescue themselves: Schuyler told the agency they tried retrieving and using flares, but they were wet, agency Investigator Jim Manson said. They got their cell phones, which were in plastic baggies, but there was no signal.

They knew how many hours were passing because Schuyler had a watch with a light on and was able to keep track of the time. He said that around 5:30 a.m. the next day, Cooper became unresponsive. Schuyler and Bleakley tried to revive him without success.

Cooper's flotation device was removed and Bleakley put it on. The Oakland Raiders linebacker then became separated from the boat.

About an hour later, Smith started to show "possible extreme symptoms of hypothermia." He removed his flotation device and also became separated from the boat.

The two college teammates were the only ones left. They hung on together for about 24 hours, until Bleakley grew weak and removed his life vest as well.

Schuyler said that his friend appeared to die as he was holding onto him. He let his friend go and Bleakley drifted away.

Manson said moving the anchor line to the stern, or back of the boat, contributed to the vessel's instability and flooding when they tried to free it. He described it as a mistake that probably happens every day, but one that a more experienced boater would be aware of and could handle.

Cooper, the boat's owner, had more than 100 hours of boating experience but no formal education, and had been drinking, according to the report.

"Overall, it's just a mistake in anchoring," Manson said.

The Coast Guard released its records on the accident last week. According to the agency, Schuyler told them the boat capsized after their anchor got caught in a reef.

The accuracy of that account was somewhat unclear because Schuyler was suffering from hypothermia and spoke to them shortly after he was pulled from the boat. His doctor said he probably could have only lived another five to 10 hours.

The Coast Guard called off its search after three days of scouring 24,000 miles of ocean.
 

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Four relatively big guys, a 21' boat, and two big coolers with ice/food/beer/drinks. I wonder how much the beer was responsible for the mistakes made. Also, sounds like the boat was overloaded.

Trying to break an anchor free by powering away from it is not a good idea, especially in a small outboard powered fishing boat, which usually has little freeboard, especially at the stern. Generally, using the boat's buoyancy is far more effective than using the boat's engine. Simple physics says the stern is going to get pulled under the surface given enough horsepower.
 

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If any of you find yourself in a similar situation: CUT The Freaking LINE!! You can try various methods for recovery of that anchor... But if you are in an outboard driven boat. Never tie the anchor line off on the stern.
Bring the line in over the bow getting as short as possible, bounce the boat a couple of times, then if the anchor don't come loose then CUT the FREAKING LINE!!

I have left two and a half shots of 2.5" stud chain with a one ton anchor because it was and still is hung up on the bottom. Will not indanger my crew for an anchor. People's lives and body parts are so much more important then a blasted anchor.
I do know a few people who got their fingers crunched by and anchor chain... We call them stubbies. A very painful way to lose fingers and other body parts that get intangled with Anchor chains or Rodes (line).
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
They were 50 miles off shore, how deep was the water and just how much rode were they carring?
 

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The water there is very shallow for many miles. That is what makes the west coast of FL so dangerous. You will get 800 miles of fetch that hits the shelf and starts building into square seas. They are square. Those of you that have not experienced it would not understand. 100 miles offshore, in a storm (from the north) you can literally look to your stern and watch the water stand straight up behind you almost to the point you can reach out and touch it. I told you guys about that time I was maybe 120 miles offshore of FL and woke the next morning to swells that stood behind us straight up and you were staring eye-eye with dolphin!!! Unbelieveable memory for me and Kris. Ths issue starts when those walls start breaking over, which will happen and has happened to us. The west coast of FL in a Northern is highly under-rated as a recipe for disaster. It will certainly test your seamanship and scopalamine.

I would imagine these guys had some guess the storm was coming. The waves preceed the storm generally. The fouled their anchor. It was, though a poor decision, an innocent decision, to try and jerk it up with the motor from the stern. I can see where an unexperienced boater might do that. That probably put their bow with the swells and the stern to them. Those boats are generally open in the back. When the stern went down, the wave broke inside and that was all she took. In different conditions, that might not have happened.

Don't critique them too badly. THey paid for their mistakes with their lives. The lone surivivor will never be the same. I doubt I could ever return to sea under such conditions.

Regarding going that far offshore in that size boat, that is not alltogether unusual. I had a diesel powered trophy that (though I never took it out that far) could have made that trip. I think she was only 24 feet long or so.

In looking back over this accident, let's ask ourselves what we might learn from it. First, a water proof VHF. I never heard that mentioned. That might have saved their lives. Second, monitoring the weather. Especially there, where it can get mean quickly, watch your weather window. Third, a good GPS (I am not going to bring up an EPIRB). With a working VHF, they could have relayed their position. Lastly, a float plan. If they could have narrowed their search down from 24,000 miles, I think the chance(s) for success might have been higher.

Thoughts?

- CD

PS I would not have gone out that far in that boat, just as a disclaimer. That was another poor decision. I am simply saying that it is done.
 

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A 50nm radius from Tampa Bay, from the NW to the SW, covers waters which are 16 to 24 fathoms -- 96 to 144 feet deep.

They would have had to have a long anchor line, probably 200' or more of light nylon anchoring line.

Dog and Bosun are absolutely right: cut the friggin' line. If the anchor were snagged on something, there's damned little chance it could have been freed.

Too little common sense, too little boating knowledge and experience, and probably too much beer contributed to this tragic and unnecessary loss. It would be good if we were to believe that others will be cautioned by this tragedy, but IMO there's very little these days to suggest they will.

Bill
 

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A 50nm radius from Tampa Bay, from the NW to the SW, covers waters which are 16 to 24 fathoms -- 96 to 144 feet deep.

They would have had to have a long anchor line, probably 200' or more of light nylon anchoring line.

Dog and Bosun are absolutely right: cut the friggin' line. If the anchor were snagged on something, there's damned little chance it could have been freed.

Too little common sense, too little boating knowledge and experience, and probably too much beer contributed to this tragic and unnecessary loss. It would be good if we were to believe that others will be cautioned by this tragedy, but IMO there's very little these days to suggest they will.

Bill
That is not unusual to have or do actually. I have moored out in 180+ before. Alcohol probably prevented a good decision being made. Not knowing when to let go of the anchor and just cut it - led to the incredible lesson that we can all take from such a tragic story. And that is the point of these stories and discussing, as they are a prep tool when we may get in similar situations that we have some formulated back-up plan or thought process to handle as such.
 

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Carrying an anchor rode sufficient to anchor in 100-150' of water in a 21' open fishing boat would be a really neat trick. That's 500' of rode at a minimum... at 5:1 scope...

IIRC, your boat is a wee bit bigger.

That is not unusual to have or do actually. I have moored out in 180+ before. Alcohol probably prevented a good decision being made. Not knowing when to let go of the anchor and just cut it - led to the incredible lesson that we can all take from such a tragic story. And that is the point of these stories and discussing, as they are a prep tool when we may get in similar situations that we have some formulated back-up plan or thought process to handle as such.
 

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Monday quarterbacking on Friday?
Yeah, probably. But still...one local TV news reported that when they started out, there was a small craft advisory in place. We're preaching to the converted here I think. This is a terrible price to pay and a harsh lesson that maybe the ones that really need to be informed and educated in proper seamanship...aren't getting it. These men had it all. Such a waste and too sad....
 

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I hate regulations, I hate regulations, I hate regulations...

The issue here is the LACK of education. I'm not much for mandatory licensing but even I can see the need. Simply going through the Power Squadron course would likely have prevented this.
But many states are doing what you suggest, and we as the public are giving them reasons. The people on a forum like this, for all of our shortcomings, are trying to learn. We know how to avoid most of the stupid traps, and we ask questions about the rest, learning by degrees.

My daughter will have to take such a class very soon, and even though she has been on sailboats as long as she can remember, there is going to be a lot of content that Dad never taught, either because it does not apply to our boat, or because... well, we just never talked about it. It seemed obvious, perhaps. I am looking forward to it; it will be good for her.
 

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I read they were just 35 miles off shore and in about 25'-30' of water, so anchoring was possible. I also read that the waves were in the 15' range later in the day! I can't imagine a 21' boat in 15' waves, they get extra points for staying on the boat before it capsized. YES, they should have paid attention to small craft advisories and YES, they have paid closer attention to the building weather, and YES they should have cut the anchor line, and YES, they should have had a MARINE VHF on board not just cell phones (in plastic bag).

Would a boating license have prevented this, maybe, maybe not. Some drivers (street) never learn the simple rules of driving safety so why would we believe that boaters are any different.

We are sailors and look at boats different than power boaters/fishermen look at boats. They (fishermen and power boaters) see them as a means to another end, we sailors see boats as the end to the means. Also, because we move so slowly we learn to be aware of what will lie ahead and what can happen IF something goes wrong.

I had a good friend that owned a powerboat and he believed that gunning the engine was the best way to quickly get out of trouble. Me, I always felt that was the way to get into trouble. I have unlimited towing on my BoatUS membership and he had the $50 option; I have never used my towing policy and he spent hundreds of dollars every year being towed. It is just a different mindset I guess. If they were just 35 miles off shore maybe they figured they were just a half an hour away from safety. It is a sad story with lessons for all boaters.
 

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Good judgment comes from experience.
Experience comes from poor judgment.
 
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