Great Lakes Freighter, Gemini - Image Courtesy Mike

Note: This February 8, 2012 posting is the concluding part of a 3-part story.
If you have not yet read Parts 1 and 2, we strongly recommend you do so to enjoy the complete story to its fullest.
Here is your link to Part 1:
A Life Changing Journey, Part 1 – The Adventure


A Life-Changing Journey – Part 3 of 3 – Picking Up The Pieces
(by Alex Watson)

Yesterday, you read about a catastrophic accident in the Detroit River when Gemini (since renamed Algosar), a 432’ Great Lakes freighter, struck and sank Wandering Star, a 36’ Grand Banks Classic trawler.

Here are some stats about that freighter:

Length: 432 ft
Beam: 65 ft
Depth: 29 ft
Capacity: 75,298 barrels / 12,500 tons
Horsepower (twin diesel): 5,220 hp

The owner of Wandering Star, Jeff Martines, and the portion of the boat where he had been sleeping, were thrust under the freighter — over 30 feet down — while the entire 432 ft long ship travelled over him. Miraculously, he survived.

Jeff’s story now concludes with:

1) Coast Guard investigation
2) Insurance claim
3) Salvage efforts
4) Legal proceedings
5) Determination of what happened
6) Settlement
7) Long term effects

And Lessons learned.

As with Parts 1 and 2, these are Jeff’s words.

It seems amazing but all of us were treated and released same day, after about 6-8 hours in hospital. It was late at night when we left. My Dad came back to my house with my Mom as he was pretty sore and I wanted to keep an eye on him. John and Jim, our captain and crew, overnighted at a hotel and flew home from there.

I called the insurance company. When I bought the boat, I had the company — Auto-Owners — send me a binder. When the accident happened, just a few days after initiating coverage, I had not yet made one single payment. So here I had to call them and tell them we’d had a total loss. But I’ve got to say, they were quite phenomenal. Not only did they reimburse us for the boat, they also paid us an extra 10% of the value for personal items, things of that nature.

Shortly after the accident, the Coast Guard was making contact with us. They wanted the briefing. I ended up going down to Detroit the following week to meet with them. The freighter captain and crew had met with the Coast Guard separately, so we did not see them. I believe the Coast Guard actually briefed the freighter people the same day of the accident. I think they boarded and dealt with them directly, with drug testing and the like. I understand the Coast Guard wanted to brief us same day as well, but given our condition, the paramedics whisked us away before they could do that.

At the briefing, our whole experience was recounted. We started to get into the technicalities. The channels we were monitoring, the equipment we had on board, this whole situation. We gave our story.

The Coast Guard was very closed-mouthed about what had happened. They took down our information, said they would be doing an investigation, and would let us know the results. Quite honestly, over the period of about the next year, there appeared to be a song and dance response on the Coast Guard’s part. You could just tell they weren’t interested in getting involved. The captain of the freighter was cited, but no other action was taken against him. In fact, I think that citing was later rescinded.

While we were working with the Coast Guard and their investigation, their line of attention began to change. They were asking us how much fuel was on board. From my calculations, we went down with a little over 200 gallons of diesel. Upon learning that, they said “You’ve got to get it out.”

People may not know this, but if something happens and you have to salvage your boat, it’s your responsibility to get it out of there. And that’s not cheap. So we had to hire a marine salvage company. Although we were on the brink of winter, they started sending a diver down. I went with him because I thought it was going to be an easy hit to find it; it would ping on the sonar.

You know, the bottom of the Detroit River is very silty. We would do zig zags. Every time we thought we had it, the diver would go down. But the current is strong. So strong, we’d have to drop anchor and he’d have to follow the anchor rope. He also had to pick up the anchor on the bottom, and then move it. That’s how he would move around the river bottom.

We searched for two weeks. And the only thing we could find was part of the boat that still had the shafts coming through their logs. The diver saw the shafts and told me they were so damaged, they were “bent like curly fries.” You know, that’s 1-1/2” stainless!

A Salvage Diver.

Those shafts were the only part of the boat ever found in two weeks of dives. So we went back to the Coast Guard and explained that we’d tried but without success. They allowed us to abandon the search with the condition if they ever got a slick, it would still be our responsibility. Even though I’m not a polluter, this exposure didn’t leave me with a good feeling at all. But the marine salvage guy said we couldn’t have sunk in a more perfect place, because it was just south of Ford’s Rouge plant. If anything did bubble up, how could anyone say it was us, given how much stuff is coming out of Rouge?

We spent probably $8,000 trying to find the boat. Part of the money we got from Auto-Owners ended up covering that. If we ever did find the boat or tanks, it was going to cost us more to hook it up and get it out of the River.

Because we weren’t getting answers from the Coast Guard, we decided to pursue things in the courts. We just couldn’t let it slide. The whole accident was really bothering us. We needed some satisfaction. So we started calling attorneys.

To be honest with you, a number of them that we called wanted nothing to do with it. They said “you were in the shipping channel, you were supposed to get out of their way, and that’s all there is to it.” But we did find a maritime attorney in our area who listened to me and was interested in hearing the details. I sat down with him, and told him exactly what had happened. After also reading our statements, he felt there was some wrongdoing. He said “ok, I’ll take it.” If we won, he would get his piece of the pie, plus expenses. Anything that was expense-related pursuing this came out of our pockets. The attorney was in his mid 40s and a real pit-bull!

It wasn’t too long after we hired him that something stunning happened. Remember the fishermen that came over to us right after we’d been hit? Well, their story to the Coast Guard was unbelievable! I don’t know if they were cracking the beers or what, but their statement was that they saw us come from behind the freighter, pass it on the Port side, then turn hard East, directly in front of it. That’s what their statement was!

Well, when our attorney heard that, he sent us a letter saying “I no longer want to represent you on this case.” I was so angry! The fishermen’s story didn’t even wash with those of the freighter bridge or the freighter bow watch guy. It made absolutely no sense. We were adamant that we never passed a freighter. Not even one the whole time on the River. So when our attorney sent us that letter, I hit the roof. I wrote him a letter shaming him for dropping us so easily. Well, he took us back on.

Our attorney gagged us. He told us if we said a word, one word to the media about what happened, it would be the end of our relationship. We understood why, but that was pretty rough on us. Because the story was on the news. And it was on the web. The freighter people were talking. Other people were talking. And we weren’t allowed to push back. We so wanted to call people and set the record straight, because the picture they were painting just wasn’t true.

[Here’s something I pulled from the web to show what was being reported.] – Alex

“Gemini Involved in Collision”
10/23/04 8 p.m. Update

“Saturday afternoon the tanker Gemini was upbound in the lower Detroit River below Grassy Island when a 35-foot wooden pleasure boat misjudged the Gemini’s distance and cut across the bow of the tanker. The pleasure craft was struck by the tanker, which had no way of stopping or adjusting coarse. The pleasure craft was destroyed, the wooden hull disintegrated. The crew on the Gemini responded by stopping the tanker and assisting the four occupants of the small boat. All occupants were quickly recovered by another pleasure craft as pieces of their boat floated down river. The occupants of the boat were taken to a local hospital but there were no updates on their condition or extent of injuries.”

“Numerous agencies responded to the incident including local law enforcement. The Canadian Coast Guard was on scene with boats from their Amherstburg Base. A 47-foot boat (41306) and a 25- footer (255042) from the U.S. Coast Guard Station Belle Isle also responded to the scene.”

“The Gemini continued upbound to the Belle Isle Anchorage off Detroit for inspection, there were no visible signs of damage to the vessel as she passed Detroit. She arrived in the anchorage about 6 p.m., it is unknown how long she will remain anchored.”

[Jeff and his Dad also had to ignore the inevitable online “comments.” Like this one.] – Alex

– well, i have to say, WHAT A DUMBASS

– he “misjudged” the distance to cross in front of a freighter? oh, i didn’t see a friggin tanker chugging along in the channel?

– they are lucky they are alive, i hope they didnt have any boat insurance cause that idiot does not need to get another boat

– what a joke

We had to wait three years to hear what everybody involved had to say. Three years trying to figure out why this happened. When it came time for our depositions, I remember the freighter attorney was on one side of the table, and we and our attorney were on the other. My Dad gave his first. But when it was time for me to give mine, it was no different than how I’ve relayed it to you. Just telling this story was so overwhelming. I was deeply emotional. I remember our attorney looking at me quite surprised because, until that moment, he just hadn’t realized the terrible impact of that day.

You know, to this day, nobody heard any sounding from the freighter. We were on Channel 13, which is actually able to pick up 16 automatically. We were monitoring the correct channel. There was nothing that came across on the radio that they were bearing down on us. And, you know, a freighter horn is a freight train loud blast. Yet we heard nothing.

[So how loud is a freighter horn? – Blast is at 1:10.] – Alex

[youtube width=”440″ height=”344″][/youtube]

We got pretty worked up in the depositions. We couldn’t understand what was going on; couldn’t understand why this happened; couldn’t understand anything.

There was a mediator who tried to broker some kind of agreement. But you know, the freighter people were just standing firm in the case. They weren’t budging. And neither were we. We felt wronged.

Then something broke the log jam.

Both sides were revisiting what had happened. We entered the Detroit River about 11:00 that day. The freighter entered the river at approximately noon. Their depositions stated a white trawler passed along their starboard side, crossed in front of them, then continued up the River. Then they spotted that white trawler loidy doidying in the middle of the River. We realized they were first talking about that faster cruiser I mentioned earlier (the one that passed us too, just before I went below to rest), and then about our trawler, which was moving much slower. They saw the two boats as one and the same! So there was clearly confusion on the freighter between the actions of that white boat and our white boat.

But then, soon after that, the bow watchman was given permission to leave his watch to go get the next watch.

That led to the “AHA” moment!

You know, freighters like the Gemini steer from behind. There comes a point where objects in front disappear from the vision of the bridge. The bow watchman, the bridge’s eyes for things near, had left his post. We then learned his replacement did not assume his post on the bow for several minutes. According to the deposition of the replacement bow watchman, when he stepped up to the bow and looked down, there we were, on the brink of getting rolled. The replacement bow watchman is the one who told the captain to “Full Stop.”

Image To Illustrate Where Gemini's Bow Watchman Is Located - Courtesy

View From Rear Located Pilot House Of Large Freighter - Photo Courtesy

And what about the others on the freighter? The ones who had acknowledged seeing us loidy doidying? Without the watchman keeping them apprised of our position, we believe they had simply stopped paying attention.

It was with that finding — the admission there had been a material gap in the bow watch — that the freighter company said “ok we’re just going to settle this.” They dropped the hard core.

I want to clarify something. It’s not like we felt the freighter people or their lawyers were trying to cover anything up. They were convinced their story was the story, and yet we knew it was incorrect. With their confusion regarding the two white boats, they saw us piloting haphazardly. But that wasn’t true. For 9 days we were pretty steady, 7-8 knots, 1800 rpm. In the Detroit River, we never varied course in a big way. And we never changed our speed one bit.

Since this accident, I’ve come to see freighters in a much more powerful light. Now, I don’t know the hydrodynamic effect of a freighter’s bow wave. But when we got caught in that, our boat being a very deep keel design, just spun in front of the freighter.

Gemini's Enormous Bow Wave, Showing How Much Water She Pushes - Image

Perhaps if we were a smaller boat, or one with less keel, perhaps we would have just grazed along the freighter’s side.

Example Of Deep Keel On A 36' Grand Banks Classic - Image Courtesy

You know, we had a meeting with the owner of Mitzie’s a convenience / gas dock business right on the Detroit River, just south of our collision spot. The dock at Mitzie’s is where the paramedics looked after us before we went to the hospital. When we met, the owner was kind enough to return our flag to us, which had been found. (Incidentally, after the collision, he used debris from our boat to make up their bar!)

Mitzie’s Convenience / Gas Dock Business Right On The Detroit River

The reason I mention Mitzie’s, is that the owner showed me something amazing when we were there… When a freighter goes by, the water level changes. A lot. The freighter displaces so much water, it pushes the level up before it, and then sucks it down when it passes. And once you get caught up in that…

You know, I’m a pilot. It’s kind of like getting caught in a downdraft. If the downdraft is 1,000 ft per minute and the most the plane can climb is 500 ft per minute, you’re going down at 500 ft per minute, no matter how hard you pull up on the stick. I think that’s what happened to us. Once we were in that freighter’s pull, it became impossible to get out.

[Here, you’ll get an amazing demonstration of the effect Jeff describes. This video was taken only a few miles north of the Detroit River.] – Alex

[youtube width=”440″ height=”344″][/youtube]

[Also on the Web, I discovered a very interesting article in a January 15, 1915 Scientific American called: Suction Between Passing Ships -1 — Important But Little Understood Forces Affecting the Motion of Vessels. The article described and illustrated in diagrams the powerful forces that affect ships when they overtake and pass from opposite directions. It concluded with this paragraph: “For it is obvious that the forces created by these constrained waves following and preceding the ships can easily be far greater than any of those ordinarily relied upon for maneuvering. While the altitude of the constrained wave is slight its extent covers an area of ship side which is enormous when compared with the rudder surface. Indeed the difficulty in connection with suction is not to explain it but to explain how it is that so many ships pass closely without its becoming an overwhelming factor. The most frequent answer is depth of water. It requires no mathematics to show that this Venturi like restriction of waterway between the two ships is much worse in shallow water than in deep.” As for Jeff’s Dad’s difficulty steering prior to impact, the article said this about a larger vessel overtaking a smaller one. “…the overtaken vessel suddenly swerving uncontrollably usually in defiance of a hard over helm and often against reversed engines,” though the article indicates the greatest suction occurs when the overtaking ship has mostly passed the other.] – Alex

[I also found this, from a book entitled Royce’s Sailing Illustrated, published in 1997. Regarding the dangers of ship waves, the book says: “The movement of a ship displaces a tremendous volume around and under this moving container at hull speed. It produces a suction 1/2 to 3 lengths ahead to fill the void created by the propeller suction near the stern. This suction increases considerably in shallow bays or rivers where the same total volume has to be pulled in from greater distances.” The section continues with this: “The large vessel bow wave may push your boat away…” So why didn’t it in this case? Perhaps Jeff’s deep keel theory in part explains that. Incidentally, seamen call the suction ships create between themselves and another object “the drawdown.”] – Alex

Interesting thing, in early 2005, just a few months after the accident, the Gemini was sold to Algoma Central for $2.3 million. In maritime law, you can’t be sued for more than the value of your boat. I don’t know if Ashland sold it for that reason or not, but I think it probably capped their potential losses if the case ever resurfaced.

Gemini Wearing Her New Name, Algosar - Image Courtesy

The settlement amount from Ashland Oil was a joke. Ashland may have viewed us as a thorn in their side, but they made it clear they were ready and tough if we were thinking of fighting this further. Auto-Owners recovered very little of the $60,000 they had paid us. When we paid everybody off — paramedics, attorney, salvage — we ended up with less than $20,000 each.

Now this was never about the money for us. We weren’t going for the throat. The insurance company had already pretty much reimbursed us. What we wanted was an explanation. We wanted to know “why.” And if there was some fault, we wanted an apology.

But you know, Ashland never admitted fault.

My Dad and I have had 7+ years to reflect on what happened that day.

One thing that amazes me is had there been just one break, one break in the link of events that led to this accident, it wouldn’t have happened. For instance, had I stayed in the pilot house, with an extra set of eyes, maybe I’d have seen something the others never did.

Here’s something else I’ve reflected on a lot. While the Grand Banks is an excellent boat, there’s something to be said for having greater visibility from the pilot house. The whole center section of our pilot house was solid, because there were stairways at both ends. And on both sides, there were small windows. Those are some significant blind spots. And probably the freighter bore down on us in one of those spots. You know, when it came time to buy another boat, I insisted on a model that had greater rearward visibility. I wanted windows, big windows, all the way around. Some of those I looked at had absolutely no visibility behind them. That was not an option for me.

Photo Of The Grand Banks 36’ Classic Pilot House, Looking Aft - Note The Limited Rear Visibility.

I’ve also wondered time and again how I survived this. I think the integrity of the Grand Banks played a huge role in that. The sides were 1” planked mahogany. The 4 stringers are of an especially hard wood; you have to pre-drill to put a screw in. It’s dubbed “ironwood.” I give credit to the strength of the boat. It held together until after it rolled. That’s when the freighter punched us, on the opposite side of where I was sleeping. That integrity probably saved my life.

There have been consequences for my Dad and me that extend beyond boating.

For months after the accident I could not stop sweating while sleeping. I would wake up in a cold sweat asking for air. I would be telling my wife to open the window, that there was no air. Even today, wherever I am, I need air circulating, always. And I need light when I sleep. I am also extremely claustrophobic now. I wasn’t that way before. I can be down below in our own boat when we’re at the dock, but when we’re underway, I cannot be down there. It freaks me out.

You know, before the accident, my attitude was “life’s an adventure and I’m going to live it.” I was into a lot of things. Like flying. Ironically, I sold my plane to buy this boat with my Dad, because my Dad had been hounding me to give up flying. He kept telling me “with flying, there’s no second chance.” So I sold the plane, bought the Grand Banks, cruised at 7-8 knots, and then almost died. My attitude these days is far more cautious.

My Dad, to this day, can’t get his confidence back. He’s 73. He placed a lot of the blame for the accident on himself because he was at the wheel. He really took it hard. He won’t go on our boat unless I’m there, but as long as I am, he still enjoys boating.

The big water quest left my Dad with this accident, but it didn’t leave me. It took me 5 years to regain that. I came from piloting, you know? I love setting my course, navigating, having my systems. I want to make Hessel, I want to go to Mackinac Island, Charlevoix, Petoskey…

I got to a point where I wanted to get back up on the horse. Only this time, I wanted a boat that had visibility all around. I wanted a boat that was faster than freighters. And, I wanted one that was built strong like that Grand Banks. So I bought a Tollycraft. If you know anything about the Tolly’s that’s really what they are. Heavy, hand laid fiberglass. Made in the Pacific Northwest for those waters.


I bought my Tolly in Cedar Point (OH) marina. It was amazing getting it to Harsens Island (MI), up the Detroit River. Once again, my Dad came with me, along with my cousin. We had to pass by where the accident was. When we did, my Dad and I kind of looked at each other. We didn’t say anything. But you know, I really had the attitude that we needed to move on; we needed to get past this. There’s a raw steel factory to port. As I looked at it, I remembered that was the first thing I saw when I came up from the bottom that day. And I remembered hearing the ding-ding of a train noise. How could one forget?

What’s ahead? Well, next Spring, my Dad and I are bringing the Tolly up to Hessel for the Summer. We love Hessel. We’ve found it’s a place where we can totally relax. It will be my second big trip.

Jeff and His Dad Aboard His Dad's 1957 27’ Chris-Craft Sea Skiff


So what have I learned from this experience?

For starters, when it comes to boat insurance, make sure your coverage includes the stuff you have with you on board. We were lucky Auto-Owners covered that. I’d also look for a clause which covers, at least in part, salvage costs. The bills from a costly salvage could really add to the hurt of a sinking.

Secondly, you know, I’ve seen videos of people riding freighter waves in boats or jet skis, or getting in close for photos or to sense the “bigness” of them. All of that is dangerous. The currents these boats generate are huge. And, as we learned, even from the bow they can suck you in. So, I would advise people who boat in big water, that freighters are to be kept at as great a distance as possible.

Thirdly – and this lesson is one that applies to all boaters at all times in any kind of boat in any body of water, big or small – never assume the guy in front of you, next to you, behind you, gaining on you, or falling back from you, sees you and is going to do the right or predictable thing. We assumed anyone bearing down on us would do the right thing and sound and/or call to state their intentions, just as they had the entire 9 days of our trip. That assumption nearly got us killed.

Another lesson worth sharing with novice boaters, or worth reminding experienced boaters, is closely related to this previous one. And that is, don’t just look 180 degrees when you’re on the water. Check, and keep re-checking, 360 degrees. It’s called being a defensive boater. Learning this lesson the hard way has changed how I boat. I’m like the Exorcist. My head spins clear around all the time now.

Lastly, while I can’t say this final point relates to the accident itself, it relates to the entire 9 day trip, and the navigational challenges, medical emergencies, and weather conditions we endured, some of which any boater can face. People make fun of others who fuss a lot about safety, who even obsess over it and won’t go on the water without all their safety stuff. They call them wackos. But you know, things happen very quickly on the water. Our near-tragedy is a good example of that.

So I would say to readers of this story, don’t scrimp on safety. The one item, redundant device, or feature you scrimp on could be the one that makes the difference between life and death. If you’ve thought about buying a VHF, GPS, better radar, flare gun, stronger bilge bump, fume detector, lanyard kill switch, blower – anything safety-related, even a lowly first aid kit – just get it. I know the costs of safety stuff add up. And not using things that expire, such as flares, might seem like money wasted. But when the need arises, as it might with any of us, those items can become priceless.

[In the whole story Jeff told me, he never mentioned lifejackets. I asked him if he wears one.] – Alex

No, though I always ensure kids do when they’re aboard. I’ve thought about buying one of those self-inflating ones.

[I told Jeff I wear one of those. And I’ve found that in time, as with a seatbelt, one doesn’t even mind, or notice, that it’s on.] – Alex

You know, I’m on my way home right now. I’ll be passing by a West Marine. I think I’m going to pick one up.

“The Easy To Wear, Not Bulky Or Restricting, And Even Cool-Looking, Self-Inflating Lifejacket.” - Photo Courtesy West


Jeff, thank you so much for sharing with us the incredible events of October 23, 2004 and its aftermath.

While you continue to try to find meaning in the accident, and continue to feel the emotional scars such a near-death experience leaves behind, perhaps some good can come out of it through sharing this story.

Maybe it will touch people in a way that will make them safer boaters. Perhaps it will prompt them to pick up and wear a self-inflating life jacket, whether or not they are strong swimmers. Or prompt them to become, or help their family members become, better swimmers. It could trigger them to buy safety equipment they had, or had not, been contemplating. Or to take a boating safety course, or enroll their spouse or kids in one. Or maybe it will simply remind them to drive defensively, and to teach their kids not only how to drive a boat, but how to drive one defensively too.

In so doing, you’re turning a painful event from the past into a positive one going forward; one that might even save lives.

Left to Right - Jeff, his Dad Joe, and His Brother Joey, Together

By Alex Watson – Hessel, Michigan

Here are some links to make taking the above safety measures easier:

1. Self-inflating live jackets. You’ll find them in the Safety category of this website  – To get to the Safety category, just scroll down the column on the left of the home page. After clicking on “Safety,” click on the “Lifejackets” category. There is even a video clip here to help select the right type. (or click here to go directly to that category)

2. Safety equipment. Here is a link to the West Advisor (click here) with a video and listing of Coast Guard Required Safety Equipment, by class of boat. This stuff isn’t optional. It’s the law. You might want to go to the store and scroll through the entire Safety category. It’s so easy not to buy this stuff. Who needs an extra fire extinguisher when there’s no fire? Yet. Or a first aid kit when no one has danced with a prop? Whether or not you buy from West Marine, you might want to review the categories in the Safety section to see what’s available and what’s new or improved. Then beef up, or update what you have on board. And while your thinking safety, don’t forget to replace expired items, such as flares or medical supplies.

3. Boating safety course. Here’s a free one from BoatU.S., (click here) the leading boat owners association in the U.S. It’s Coast Guard approved. And it’s online too. How much easier could that be?  There’s even a boating simulator and docking and navigation games, to make learning fun (click here to see that).

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55 Responses to “A Life-Changing Journey, Part 3 – Picking Up The Pieces.”
  1. mark edmonson

    Growing up on the St. Clair River this is always been your first thing you do is make way for the freighters and in the early day the suction was huge, Now there is speed limits. But still, all in all size matters no matter what the rules of the seas are, frieghters have the right of way. Thank god these guys made it. I have looked up at those big bows before, not a fun sight.

    • m-fine

      That is the key thing. Freighters ALWAYS have the right of way unless you are disabled and have no ability to avoid them.

      It sounds like the freighter crew made some mistakes and they paid a settlement that reflects them having a portion of the responsibility, but for the most part it was the little boat that failed to see the huge freighter and failed to stay clear. It is unfortunate that Jeff and his dad paid such a heavy price for their mistakes, but it is nothing short of a miracle they didn’t pay a higher price and lose their lives.

  2. Jim Frechette

    And the WoodyBoater Pulitzer Prize for journalism is presented this year to Alex (and Jeff). What a gripping, amazing story. I am up early today because I woke up thinking of that submerged cabin and further sleep was out of the question.
    I would also like to relate an experience that shows you do not need to be up against a freighter to witness suction. I was doing a photo shoot in my Sportsman and the photo boat was a 36′ cruiser. We were running side by side at about 10 MPH as the photographer kept motioning me to come closer. I got within about 10 feet of the bigger boat and felt myself being drawn in. I got within 2-3 feet of the boat before I was able to power forward and away and avoid a sure collision. Thank God for horsepower! I know how we Woody Boaters like to take pictures of each other, but keep your distance.

  3. Scott Ales

    A heartfelt thank you to all who contributed on this story. I am sure each reader will take something different away from it. For myself, I cannot imagine being in any circumstance where I will need to navigate by a Great Lakes Freighter. But then I haven’t imagined most of the incredible experiences in my life! The value of understanding these huge ships and the Tsunami like conditions they create is priceless. As Jeff stated, just one thing different could have prevented this. For all of us, you have just given each reader that one thing! And for that, I am eternally grateful. Your story was heart wrenching to read but without any doubt will save lives in the future. And while you may not of considered this, you could have just saved a life of a second or third generation. When we are all gone this information will still be helping anyone we share it with.

    Thank you for allowing us into that space in your life!

    God bless you and your family.

  4. ranger

    incredible story.

    our only experience with freighters has been seeing them in the gulf stream while we were out billfishing when we lived in the florida keys, never got close to them…now never will.

    the only river we run is the st. john’s that has light barge traffic or the intercoastal where we might encounter a large yacht.

    thank you for teaching those of us that don’t experience these types of vessels a valuable lesson.

    so glad that you all are continuing to enjoy life on the water!

  5. Randy Rush-Captain Grumpy

    Great story! Sorry for your loss Jeff. I can attest to the Insurance issues of a boat sinkng. I had a boat burn with me on it and sink. The marine patrol let it burn to the waterline so as to burn off all the gas, then had the fire boat sink it. In NH you have 72 hrs to pull it out of the lake. I had Hagerty Ins for a whole month . It cost them $8k for a barge with an excavator and two divers to retreave the boat.

  6. Tom

    Phenominal story guys!! It surely will make people aware of several things, safety foremost. Jeff and Joe have been friends since they bought their 22’U from us, I think in October 2002. They are first rate people and we are so very thankful they survived without serious injury or worse. Other than jeff nagging at me to lose weight, he is one of the nicest people I know. The woody Boater Community is lucky for this story to be written just to demonstrate what can happen at any time, without notice. Great lessons to learn here, Thanks Guys!!

  7. m-fine

    One thing I am missing from this story is the explanation from the hired captain who should have been responsible for the boat at the time of the accident. It is not uncommon for new boaters to not fully respect the danger of the great lakes in fall or the importance of keeping a large distance from freighters, but the experienced captain should absolutely have known the risks. We don’t have enough info to pass judgement on him, but the fact that he took on the job when most said no, and also invited friends along on the journey does speak to his state of mind.

    Part one of this story was presented as an adventure, boating up the coast and the fighting the waves of Ontario and Erie. Those waves have claimed their share of freighters, let alone a 36′ pleasure craft. Anytime you survive a great lakes storm it is only because you were lucky enough to miss her worst fury. There are the famouse sinkings like the Lady Elgin and the Edmund Fitzgerald, but there are many many more that don’t make the headlines.

  8. The Central Scrutinizer

    Amazing story and the video showing the Tsunami-like effect created by that freighter was impressive.

  9. m-fine

    Here are a few quotes from an article titles “The Graveyards of Lake Ontario” from greatcanadianlakes website. This should give a little insight on why so many captains refused the trip and why I question the wisdom and professionalism of the one who said yes. Sure they made it to the River safely but that does not mean it was a wise choice.

    “Even a quick glance through archival lists of Great Lakes vessels reveals a shocking truth: many of the ships have sunk. In the years since 1679, when La Salle’s elegant and ill-fated Griffon disappeared, more than 10,000 ships have gone down, taking their crews and passengers with them. Almost 2,000 sailors died on the Great Lakes in the single decade of 1863 to 1873, and in the “worst” November storm of 1913, 19 ships and 248 crew members lost their lives. In comparison to the wind-tossed Lakes of Huron, Superior and Michigan, Ontario has a reputation for sedateness. But it is a relative measure; in the fall, when polar air collides with lingering summer humidity, even the smallest of the Great Lakes can be treacherous.”

    “Hundreds of people – skippers, crews and passengers -perished in Lake Ontario’s sudden gales, often within sight of safety and salvation.”

    Think about that last one a bit. The only way to truly stay safe from sudden unexpected gales in the fall is to not be on the water in the first place.

  10. Tom Frye

    I, like Mark Edmonson (life long friend) grew up on the St Clair River. My grandparents both lived on the river, so I spent a lot of time boating on that river. In the 1960’s, as Mark said, there were no speed limits, the water was low and they would pull a tremendous amount of water. As I remember it pulled about to the end of the dock, roughly 80′. A fully loaded (low in the water) ore boat could pull water, but the ocean going boats, as we called them “Salties” would really suck the water. We would yell “Salty” and everyone would run to the shore. You could literally walk out 80′ and you would be standing on the bottom, granted only for a very short time, as the water came rushing back in, swamping the shore. When water levels went up in the Great Lakes, the freighters, with no speed limits would run the St Clair River and throw such huge wakes that it would destroy docks and knock boats off there hoists. They then set speed limits and would monitor the freighters with radar guns. Sometimes at night they would try to make up time and “speed”, they were ticketed and fined just like a motorist.

    Growing up on the St Clair River and boating from a very young age I have had lots of experience with freighters.
    My mother dated a crew member on a freighter and she would take cigarettes out to him as he passed in her dad’s 1939 17′ Chris Craft runabout, pulling up along side and he would lower a bucket. Water sking, friends would freak you out by towing you close to freighters. We were out late one night in a 19′ Sea Ray, having a good time. We ran out of gas, no big deal, someone laughed “the parties over”. I looked up river and here’s this freighter bearing down on us horn blowing. We all stood up in disbelief ……….I said “don’t just stand there Mo______Fu____s, PADDLE! I was wet up to my shoulders trying to paddle this 19′ boat. That freighter slide past us, and I remember looking up at the name on the bow “Chamberlain” and seeing the door on the pilot house I fully expected the Captain to come out and chew our asses out. We always had a saying when boating on the St Clair………….”Freighter Rules” which meant stay out of there way, there bigger and will hurt you. This principal also applies to automobiles and pedestrians, Semi trucks and cars, you get the picture.

    Great story Alex, I’m glad everything turned out okay.
    Not to diminish anything in the story the bow wave that you see in the video “how loud is the horn” is more indicative of the bow wave you would see in a “speed limited” river. Of course “fully loaded boats” push more water because there’s more of the boat under water.

  11. Scott Robinson

    Thanks to all for this amazing story, and hopefully we will all be more safety minded, Best wishes, Scooter

  12. Victor M Fabricius

    We’ll all be second guessing Jeff for as long as this story remains with us but I can’t help but think the freighter captain bears more responsibility. Regardless of size issues. Int’l boating regs: overtaking a vessel on your starboard side, 2 short blasts, wait for response from vessel being overtaken. In a dangerous situation, 5 short rapid blasts, there was no horn, no communications. I hope Jeff’s legal pursuit gave him some “mental” relief from this horrific event.
    Being a “Looper” wannabe and having crewed a ’54 Hatteras for the Chicago to Kentucky section we never “looked back” to my recollection and anchoring overnight just off the Mississippi on a “branch” sure made the captain nervous and now I know why. Lots of lessons learned here from Jeff, thank you and Alex for taking the time to document (and Texx/Matt for running it). Excellent supporting vids and pix. I hope telling this story provides some cathartic relief in your quest for answers and some sound sleep in your life.

  13. MikeM

    Great job Alex, Jeff, Texx and maybe Matt. What a story with many lessons.

    When I was a kid my folks had a place on Lake Ontario and one of our neighbors would spot freighters in the shipping channel, I think 6 or 7 miles out, and would chase them down in his 21.5′ Four Winns. His goal was to jump their wake until the captain himself came out screaming. My dad would never let us participate with him. One day, my folks and sisters were out with him in the boat when a freighter went by and they were stuck on this thrill ride. It scared the crap out of my dad and obviously the girls. Needless to say, none of us were ever allowed in his boat again.

    I’m still a little confused as to how the freighter in the story appeared out of nowhere in such a restricted area. If I’m reading the story right there were four sets of eyeballs in the pilothouse for several minutes before the collision. I’m not casting judgement, just still not sure how it happened.

    • m-fine

      Look at the pictures of the pilot house. There is only a small window to the rear, and unless someone is making an effort to look out it, I can easily see how a freighter could sneak up on you. Jeff was below deck, so no blame there. His father was at the helm which means he likely couldn’t see much to the rear. That leaves one other set of eyeballs that should have been looking, and that should have been the most experienced to know the need to keep watch in a shipping channel. Factor in 9 days of fatigue and it is easy to see how no one looked back for the 5+ minutes it probably took the freighter to catch up.

  14. Victor M Fabricius

    One thing I forgot to mention, when do you leave your station to change watch? I thought you were relieved from your watch. The crewman at the bow left his station unattended and thereby left the ship vulnerable to a collision. I would think this would make the vessel more responsible for the collision, not necessarily 100 percent but in much larger percentage than Jeff.

  15. WoodenRookie

    There is a sense of distance on waterways that just isn’t respected via small craft or large. Never assume you know what another boat’s intentions are until they are out of the area. Standing a watch is the most boring but essential activity on a boat, whether it is a 20′ or 400′ boat. Ask your passengers to tell the driver whenever they see another boat and not assume “he/she sees it”.

    Having spent quite a few years at sea on a 200′ merchant vessel I can’t tell you how many times we hailed via radio, shot flares, hit boats with flood/spot lights, but still ran into constant trouble. Unfortunately we were restricted in our ability to manuever and should have had the right of way. People just assume they are clear or safe. Understand lights, flags, and right of passage, lives depend on it.

    Thank you for sharing, it is a constant reminder of how we should prepare ourselves when we approach a body of water. Accidents will always happen and I for one am thankful you walked away to share with others. You have done the greatest good by educating all of us of situations that are constantly on the horizon.


  16. Gary

    I would like to take a moment and send a message to Jeff. It is apparent that the trauma you have endured stays with you to this day, and in a very real way is crippling (i.e. sleeping issues). It is also apparent that you seek answers, not only to why this happened, but why were you allowed to live, when by all rights you should have been dead.
    On my 42nd birthay, I had a sudden heart stoppage and flat lined. The depression that ensued was significant and always left me asking the question, why was I allowed to live? I am a believer in the saying that “everything happens for a reason.” Over a along period of time, and many therapy sessions, I came to the conclusion that I was being consumed in chasing the “why?”. I learned that while the reason you were allowed to live may not be readily apparent, some time-some way, you will understand the answer to your all consuming question. Mine came four years later when I met my lovely wife and now have two children.
    Jeff, I suppose what I am trying to say is this. As difficult as it may be, you cannot obsess about needing to know the answer. It will reveal itself to you. But, the inner conflict created during the quest for the truth, can consume you if you let it. You truly have been given the gift of life for the second time (as was I). Cherish every moment of it and sooner or later, why you had to endure this tragedy will be known. Then you can truly be at peace with it.
    To all my other Woody Boaters, I apologize for the moross overtones of my comments. I just wanted to pass along a lesson that I learned from my situation. I hope in some small way, it helps Jeff.

  17. Alex

    Mike M, I’m sure Jeff will comment later on. But as Tommy Mertaugh, his dad Jim, and I were discussing this morning, this freighter must have been gaining on Jeff’s boat, foot by foot, for a long time, because the difference in their speeds was not great. Literally watching this build would have been like watching a slow train wreck. I find that part of this so incredible. In fact, the whole experience is.

    • Tom Frye

      Alex, I’m still unclear on what time this occurred. I thought in part 1 it stated that this happened at night. In part 3, a newspaper report states, “saturday afternoon the freighter was………… If this was at night, coming up on a single stern light, with shore lights and lights in the background I could maybe see how they could loose track of the Grand Banks. But if this happened in broad daylight ….Incredible! You and the Mertaughs are exactly right, this boat had to be gaining on the GB for sometime. Me thinks there’s a good reason they have a bow watch, it’s because the guys at the stern steering can’t see whats in front of the bow very well.

  18. Alex

    Hi Tom (Frye), incredible as it seems, the accident happened in full daylight — mid-afternoon — in cloudy but clear conditions. Amazing what can happen on the water, isn’t it? So many takeaways in this story. But none more powerful than “eyes 360.” If everybody is looking out for everybody, the risk of collisions is slashed.

  19. Alex

    Gary, I did some research on trauma when writing up this story: what causes it, the different ways it can affect people, roads to recovery, etc. That’s when I realized reading about Jeff’s experience would affect some people more than others. Those who had experienced a traumatic event of some sort or another — even one totally unrelated to boating — would perhaps feel it most. Very kind of you to share perspective and advice with Jeff and all of us.

  20. Jim Mersman

    I’m not one to read longer stories, but this one kept me wanting to know how it was going to turn out. Growing up on a small 90 acre lake I had no idea that freighters caused such an issue but it makes complete sense. Anyway, nice story. Thanks to all who contributed. I’m going to stick to my small lake where the worst I could do is bump a stalled sea doo. No loss there!

  21. Gary

    Thank you Alex.You are absolutely correct. In reading the story, I was feeling the anguish behind the words. That’s why I said what I did-because it affected me in a way it wouldn’t affect others. There is a weird sort of bond between people that have had near death experiences. Anyway, I hope it may help Jeff to know that people have travelled the same road that he is currently on.
    Alex, your story was captivating and extremely well written. It was readily apparent that much thought and sensitivity went into the story before the first word was written. I wish I had the opportunity to meet you. I have shown my boat at Hessel the past couple of years. Had I been paying better attention to Woody Boater, i would have sought you out.Thanks again.

  22. Alex

    Tom (Frye), I see your point re the small bow wave in the horn-sounding video clip. That boat, btw, is the largest freighter on the Great Lakes. The Paul R. Tregurtha is 1,013′ 6″ and has a 68000 gross ton capacity.

    I looked into other factors determining bow wave size. Here’s a summary para I thought might interest WB readers on this subject:

    “The size of the bow wave is a function of the speed of the ship, its draft, surface waves, water depth, and the shape of the bow. A ship with a large draft and a blunt bow will produce a large wave, while ships that plane over the surface of the water will create smaller bow waves.”

    Can you imagine how big the blunt-nosed Tregurtha’s bow wave must be when she’s fully loaded and traveling at open-water speed?

  23. Alex

    Hi Gary. I appreciate your comments. I’ll have a couple boats at this year’s Show in Hessel, and will be covering the Show again for WoodyBoater. If you attend, please let me know so we can connect. It would be a pleasure. You might even meet Jeff as he’ll be here part of the summer too, though I’m not sure if his timing coincides with the Show’s August 11 date.

  24. Tom Carter

    What a riveting story, well-told, with myriad lessons for all of us. Thank you. After the disaster strikes, it doesn’t matter who was at fault, really. If anybody could have broken the chain of events leading to the collision, in good conscience they should have done so and argued about it later.

    Jeff, good luck overcoming your PTSD, but as many know, some people never ever lose it entirely.


  25. Dick Dow

    This dramatically reinforces a simple thing to keep in mind whenever you are on the water: “There is no substitute for vigilance.” I maintain the best (and most important) navigation tools are one’s own eyes and ears.

    Notwhithstanding the rules relative to private craft in commercial traffic lanes, the commercial owners and captain got off very lightly as they were the overtaking vessel, did not maintain a watch, did not signal their intent to overtake- did not sound a warning blast when the collision was imminent. In short, they were asleep at the wheel. They did not see Jeffs boat, and as observed above, this was not a situation that could be said developed quickly, as it was in broad daylight and both vessels were moving in the same direction.

    As for the crew on the GB 36 – fatigue, “getting close” and the tendency to relax, warm, engines purring away, end of the day, etc. Certainly was a factor. There is culpability there as well, but they were being overtaken.

    Fortunately, everyone survived and all are still boating!Perhaps the closure and purpose served for Jeff and his family are the lives this story may yet save.

    And Jeff, if you ever get out Seattle way – There is an old Tolly out here that would be glad to host your family.

  26. Jeff Martines

    If you look closely at the site of impact diagram in part 2 you will see that we rounded Fighting Island and were now more or less on a northeast heading. Our view behind wouldn’t have revealed the freighter once the island obscured that line of sight. A glance back might not have alerted you to anything, and then all of a sudden the bow of the freighter appears from the north tip of the island. How much time elapsed from that point to impact was not very long. The Gemini that day was empty but ballasted and was reported running at maximum legal speed. I agree if the freighter would have been sited while still running up the west shore line of Fighting Island could have averted this entire accident. There is no doubt that the argument is a two way street. For me the argument was over with four years ago. Today is all about what I learned. On an overcast day with a gray sky and a large ship in the distance 65′ wide across the bow and also gray, with an engine that runs almost silent, might not jump out at you like one would expect. If for whatever reason, a blind spot, to short of a glance, and you miss it…Assuming that you will get two or five blasts, or a call up on the radio, or even a throttle down if the distance is being closed could be an assumption that puts you in grave danger. I remember when I was in training for my pilots license they taught us when scanning the sky for other aircraft that you were to perform the scan in 10 degree increments, pausing for three to five seconds at each increment. This gave your eye enough time to focus at a distance. Could be a technique worth using even in boating. Gary thank you for your words. There were times of wanting and needing to talk and process my thoughts and anxieties over and over to a point of probably driving my friends and family nuts. Then you go silent with it in hopes it just goes away with small clues that it still lurks in your mind. A light on at bedtime with the window open, or sleeping on the couch because the cottage you just rented has a bedroom that is too small , no air circulation and dark.

  27. Jeff Martines

    I would like to thank everyone who commented with your kind thoughts and words. Tom M. I surely wasn’t going to bring up that topic here, but since you did I have a pair of sweat pants and walking shoes with your name on them. And I am coming up there to kick your _ _ _ this summer.

  28. Jeff Martines

    Dick, I would imagine the Tollies around Seattle are pretty prevalent. Sad to say Tolly passed away last May at 100 years old. Puget Sound has to be spectacular, would love to try that one day.

  29. Philip Andrew

    How about just some nice pictures of boats on trailers tomorrow please Texx? No water required.

    • Texx

      Yes Philip – We have the technology to do that over the next few days.

      We have a Riva Club announcment, a very cool Chris-Craft Model 99 story and it’s resoration shop in Mystic, CT.

      A great story about a family owned Donzi purchased brand new in Wisconsin in the 60’s and just for you Philip, a few great photos of a classic Century SeaMaid – I know you will like this one…

      Also, a story of a recently restored Stancraft Torpedo from Montana, after a multi-year nut and bolt restoration.

      Stay tuned for more woodies.

  30. Jeff

    I grew up and still live in wyandotte. When i was young my brother andmy nieghbor and i would take our little12ft shallow draft alumin. Boat with only a 6hp johnson out on the river and go buzzing around grosse ille and up into the rouge river (where freighters take ore and steel to the ford mo. Co.) Back then we didnt think nothing of being out on the detroit riv in that little boat with the big boats and freighters around..i have freinds that own mitzies marina now ( werent there when story happened). Ill be sure to tell them to read these stories………….ps..jeff and father and crew IM VERY GLAD to hear every is fine and hope one day you will no longer have the mental difficulties that you feel daily. Tell dad to hang in there also. Your lucky to have him. And vise versa….. thanx alex and texx…..

  31. Jeff Martines

    Thomas, I’m concerned if I hang out on this web site I’m going to re- kindle my wood addiction. Just when you thought you got rid of me.

  32. Alex

    Jeff (M), “rekindle” your wood addiction? Good one. As for the word “addiction,” you are dangerously close to the truth. But don’t worry. You’re in good company. This blog is full of classic boat junkies. You can get your fix here along with the rest of us who succumbed to habitual use months, or years, ago.

  33. DonD

    I have been reading this riviting story for days, and avoiding comment because I have lived both sides of this story.
    It got my heart racing as I relived many close calls, and I kept thinking; Crap…, I’m going to start having those nightmares again!

    For about 4-years in the mid-70’s, I was on a delivery crew out of Newport, RI. (like your John and Jim). We delivered yachts south in the fall and back north in the spring, mostly to Florida and the Bahamas, but maybe 10-times a year to and from Norfolk and Annapolis. This meant many trips up and down the Chesapeake and Delaware bays and through the C&D canal.

    The second member of the crew was responsible for constant views aft of the beam (sailboat crews were 3-5 on a shift for emergency sail changes in a blow). Most of the boats (power or sail) were large enough to have radar, and we used that constantly but it did not replace EYES, especially at night!

    There is nothing so exciting as wondering why there are suddenly NO STARS in one quadrant of the sky, except that little green one and that little red one……??????

    In ’78 and ’79, I began seeing the other side of the traffic.
    I was deck hand and then captain for a pilot boat company out of Newport, RI. In those 2-years we
    averaged 4-trips a day, 7-days a week, bringing pilots to and from ships heading to Boston, New York, or up Narragansett Bay. These were mostly 1,000+ ft oil tankers and colliers (coal), but also many Navy ships like aircraft carriers, destroyers, and submarines, as well as a few giant oil-drilling rigs.
    Our job was to find these ships, 25-miles offshore at Block Island North buoy #1, in pea-soup fog and snowstorm, match speed on the lee side, skirt the shove and suction of the bow wake and the quartering wake, and get tightly alongside the hull between them (our pilot boats had tractor tires chained to the sides), so that a local, licensed pilot, could climb up a Jacob’s ladder (rope), slung over the side.
    In real rough North Atlantic weather, I’ve looked DOWN at a tanker’s deck, looked UP at a 20-ft diameter propeller.

    I can tell you that if you are not on a highly-powered, high-speed pilot boat, that is designed to roll back upright, you really don’t want to get anywhere near a moving ship.

    One day we returned to Newport after putting a pilot aboard a large tanker, in thick fog. A few hours later we headed out to do it again while the other ship was just entering the bay with our pilot aboard.
    There, hanging from the starboard anchor, was about an 80-foot sailboat mast and tattered sails!
    The other pilot jumped out of his chair, contacted the ship, and alerted them…They didn’t even know it was there!

    I left that dangerous job for an offer to captain a 60-ft private ketch in Nassau, Bahamas, where the rule of the road was simple; “The bigger boat, she got the right of way, mon”

    While the “Vessel Constrained by its Draught” has right of way over all other classes, it was responsible for overtaking rules. They should have maintained radar plotting of your vessel. They should have contacted you on the local channel or 16 and warned you to move farther away. Failing that, they should have contacted the Coast Guard and had them work on the problem. They should have sounded horns and failing contact, should have put off the overtaking manoever and slowed down.

    I’m pretty sure, in the future, you will send your mate for a look aft every 10-minutes or so.

    I did have trouble sleeping last night. You will always have the fear of actually getting run over, but it will fade in intensity to a point where you can tell the story, as you have so wonderfully done here, Thank you.
    I can imagine your story will alert others, and save lives.

  34. Tyson K.

    Thats was a amazing story. As I was rading it, all I cared about was that everyone was ok, and thankfully they were.

  35. Alex

    DonD. Wow. You’ve been around. I had no idea. I wasn’t ready for the mast and sails part in your comment. That sent a shiver up my back. Fog scares the daylights out of me. You just don’t know when all that white is all of a sudden going to be pierced by the black of another boat.

    Years back, I remember my Dad and brother set out on a routine trek from our cottage on Marquette Island to Hessel. The distance across Hessel Bay was exactly one mile. The fog was thick and their compass had some sort of electronic malfunction. But hey, it’s only a mile right? And it’s a trip they’ve made scores of times before, right?

    Well, they became disoriented. It took them three hours to make Hessel! Three hours to complete a one mile trip. They saw land, rocks, buoys, islands, and cottages they didn’t recognize. My Dad was nearly 80 at the time and, according to my brother, he was absolutely frightened.

    I think fog to many boaters is like the dark to many kids. It fuels the imagination. Except in the case of fog, there ARE boogie monsters out there!

  36. Jeff Martines

    DonD. I remember our captain being relentless about what he felt was a blatant violation on the part of the freighter captain regarding the overtaking rules. Unfortunately I believe the rules don’t apply to a vessel that is not at least fifty feet long.( Don’t quote me exactly on the number) But isn’t that in itself unbelievable! Irrelevant to the four lives on board, because we were a few feet short of the mark it doesn’t pertain to us??? I wonder if the freighter captain had the Co-Regs book in hand saying: Nope, they’re not fifty feet…Don’t blast the horn. Again it wasn’t like it was a Fourth of July weekend with boats buzzing all over, just us and them.

  37. DonD

    I haven’t been a CG licensed operator since the mid-80’s, and even if I had a copy of Chapman’s, with the rules of the road, its likely as outdated as me?

    However, I’m surprised your lawyer or insurance company lawyer didn’t get enough money to fill your boat, for punitive damages as well as material.

    The ‘vessel constrained by its draft’ has right of way over trawlers hauling nets (not fishing boats with lines out), both have right of way over boats under sail, all three have right of way over ‘power boats’.

    This has to do with manoeverability, and ONLY applies in ‘crossing situations’, where one crosses in front of the other. This does not apply to ‘overtaking’, per se.
    However a vessel constrained by its draught means it can take miles to stop or turn, and cannot leave that channel.
    It must maintain a minimum amount of speed for steerage, or go aground in that limited channel.

    What I see is their failure to track you, and warn you to move away from their bow wake, which they know exists and can probably see from the wheelhouse.
    They need more than just line-of-sight, they should have had main and backup radars running.

    They should not have confused you with that other powerboat (perhaps radar blips converged at one point if he got really close to you when passing?).

    They admitted their bow watch lost continuity?

    Their bow wake caused you to loose steerage? (The rounded, bulbuous wake simply lifted your stern and set it to starboard, forcing your change of track).

    If they had sounded the correct overtaking horn blasts, telling you which side they were passing on, and heard your response, you would already have looked out the back door and be steering farther to starboard. This would have lifted your stern to port, sending you away from the bow.
    Either way, they were going too fast for conditions, with too big a bow wake for passing so close, without knowing that you knew you were being overtaken.
    They should have contacted you by local and then emergency (16 – which would have alerted the Coast Guard) channels to confirm your intentions.

    Nobody has the RIGHT to go the maximum speed

    Didn’t I read that the captain came out and yelled ‘why did you cut in front of me?’ (He knew damn well why that happened off his wake).
    Doesn’t that mean that he addmitted knowing you were there?

    Did I read they stopped and came back to you? This means that they were not so ‘constrained’ by depth and steerage that they couldn’t have passed farther from you or slowed down, or even stopped?

    I don’t know, I wasn’t there. I think they sold that boat instead of giving millions to your lawyer?

    The bottom line is, stay far away from a moving hull of that size, especially with a tiny, mahogany runabout.
    The bow wake can push you around, the quartering wake can easily suck you under. This is why Pilot boats are designed to pop back up and self-right. Of course, you still have to miss the giant, thrashing propellers.
    Keep well aware of shipping lanes and the ships in them!

    • DonD

      Keep in mind, the ship captains and crews look down on
      runabouts and even a Grand Banks trawler as ‘jetskis’!

  38. Tom Mertaugh

    Jeff, Keep reading. We miss you in the wooden boat world. Have I got a deal for you!! Seriously, the bigger the toy, the bigger the head ache. Wasn’t life just simple when you had Aim High, and cheaper too? Get back in the saddle and buy a woody!! I dare you to…

    • DonD

      Awwww.., little Mattie…,

      This would be like trying to pass a 3-box UPS truck in a TR3, in the mountains, and its raining…, and he’s doing 80!

  39. Janet Wolohan

    Just finished the third part–wow, what a great story! You did a terrific job on it, Alex, and I enjoyed it. Brought back childhood memories of traveling the Detroit River on the Jim Jan as my Dad cut the wake of those huge freighters. Thanks!

  40. Jeff Martines

    DonD. You have the details correct. Our arguments exactly.

    Tom M., Hmm…..Where is the 1946 these days? It’s amazing what I’m putting myself through just to wake up in the morning and have coffee at the Hessel marina. What a head case.

  41. Steve Haines

    Jeff and Alex,

    Incredible story, I received the short version of this back in 2005 when Jeff came to Connecticut to inspect and eventually purchase our sea skiff “Pastime” shown above. At the time the magnitude of this event really did not sink in with me. Truly glad you’re still around for a number of reasons but also to continue as a steward of that tough little sea skiff. How is she doing? And please say hello to your dad.

    Steve and Irene Haines

  42. Jeff Martines

    So good to hear from you. Pastime is doing great although last year it remained in the pole barn all year (just one of those over booked summers). Since the last time we spoke we added a built in bench seat across the back with storage underneath and found a correct set of the flip down seats for the helm and co-pilot. This spring the name will be painted on the transom and for Christmas I made my dad a custom flip down ladder off the swim platform. My dad has intentions of bringing it back up to Hessel and staying on it for an entire month. I hope to join him as much as I can.

  43. thomas d.

    i had planned on replacing the windows in my 24′ Clipper Cruiser with dark tinted glass but after reading this I’ll stick with the clear to be on the safe side. great reading.

  44. Larry Douglas

    Quite an experience, everyone very fortunate to survive it. Just found out about the site from another Tollycraft owner. Wanted to suggest another issue that may have been present: A magnetic compass can be severely affected by a large steel vessel nearby, and can be pulled toward it (or away from it, depending upon polarity/direction). It happened on a USN vessel I was on during Vietnam, when another vessel we were coming alongside had lost its gyros and was steering by magnetic compass. They started turning into us without realizing it. If the Grand Banks helmsman was steering by helm compass it could have been slowly pulling toward the freighter before the freighter became visible from the windows.
    Totally agree about visibility, as well as fog. Our 40 ft Tollycraft has two radars, and we ‘drive’ from the upper helm station in all but the worst weather (and look for shelter ASAP when it becomes nasty).

  45. Jeff Martines

    Larry, we were not navigating by magnetic compass at this time. Just visual/gps. I have heard stories of people leaving the helm to an auto pilot linked to the magnetic compass and it steering right into a freighter because of that. J


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