Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Flotsam or Jetsam? Wrong either way.

Found this yesterday while on route to a job. I stopped, took a quick photo, pulled them in with my boat hook, dispatched the ballons with a sharp knife, and tossed the carcasses in my trash bag.

This kind of crap is deadly to a sea turtle, who can mistake a ballon for a jellyfish, which are part of the turtle's normal diet. Floating debris is hazardous to many seabirds and other aquatic life.

Over the years, I've passed lots of ballons out there. For the most part, I have just driven by, thinking myself too busy to stop and pick them up. From now on, I will make an effort to remove ballons from the ocean whenever I can.

For more information on the floating trash problem, see

Thursday, July 24, 2008

iPhone becomes part of my cockpit

Those who know him (most of my readers) know that the owner of Safe/Sea likes to stay cutting edge. If there is a new computer out, he's gotta have one. So of course, all the Safe/Sea captains and full-time staff just had to have iPhones. I mean, all you could do on those old Nextel phones was talk to someone. How pedestrian!

I'm a big fan of technology if it actually improves something, or makes my job easier. Buying the latest gadget just because it's new or cool is a waste of money, IMO.

The iPhone has a number of very useful applications for towers, and today I was very glad to have it along as this very nasty thunderstorm passed over Block Island.

Note: this photo was taken with the iPhone. While the built in camera has practically no options (no zoom, no flash), it takes beautiful pictures.

Ok, the camera is fine, but as the storm approached, I was able to bring up Wunderground's iPhone weather page on the phone's web browser, and watch the Nexrad radar image to see exactly where the storm was. Here is an image I took (with another camera) of the iPhone's screen. The little shape in the middle is Block Island, with a big red cell approaching from the south. Turning on "animated radar" shows the movement of the storm, and the images are only a few minutes old. (click on photo to see larger image)

Sure, you can get weather radar overlapped on your GPS plotter with an XM radio subscription, but can you carry that in your pocket? Or, you can see rain on your ship's radar; I was able to monitor this storm while standing in line for coffee and walking around the docks. I watched this front approach for over an hour, and I knew when it would get here and how big it was. I was able to anticipate the wind direction based on the storm's movement, and once it started pouring rain on the pond, I could see how long the storm would last.

That kind of information is more than just a gimmick. The iPhone allowed me to stay informed about an approaching weather system without being tied to a desk or TV or radio.

A few nights ago, I neighboring tower called me at 2300 and warned me about a large thunderstorm that had just passed over his harbor and was heading my direction. With my head still on my pillow, I pulled up the radar on the iPhone, and I could see that the storm would pass north of me. I turned out the light and went back to sleep.

More about the iPhone next week.

Monday, July 21, 2008

TowboatUS Sebastian/Melbourne Lands more derelict disposal work

After some very lucrative work last year [read my post here], Absolute Towing & Salvage of Melbourne, FLA has received another nice derelict disposal contract:

Derelict boats to be removed from Indian River : Indian River County : TCPalm

Job: Remove seven derelict boats left since 2004 hurricanes from the Indian River Lagoon in Indian River County
Contract award: $37,920
$38,000 to raise and dispose of 7 boats....not bad
(photo courtesy TowBOAT/US Mystic)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Boat/US Press Release on Salvage

Well, those who have known me for a while know that I've bitched and moaned about the way salvage is portrayed in the press, and in particular I've singled out some Boat/US literature as guilty of too much hyperbole with phrases like "be warned", or "avoid salvage" and "avoid the high fees".

It was always my view that the Boat/US position could be boiled down to "salvage: BAD - towing: GOOD".

Yesterday's press release on this subject was a refreshing relief from past notices on the subject. [click here to read it all]

I think this piece is, as they say, "fair and balanced". Here is a quote:

Salvage cases are usually covered by insurance – or out-of-pocket if self-insured – and are much more expensive than a tow. Salvage continues to be the way to award a rescuer who maintains a 24-hour state of readiness to risk life, limb and vessel for others, and often results in a charge based on the length of the vessel saved or a request for a percentage of the boat's post-casualty value. While it’s a reward for extraordinary service, the dollar amount awarded factors in the degree of peril as well as the risk to the salvor and their crew. (emphasis mine)

That is the first time I've seen Boat/US express the concept that a salvor is rewarded for the service, rather than leaving the impression that a salvage is just a really high fee to be avoided.

The other thing I'm glad to see expressed is that it's the insurance company that will pay a salvage reward. Previous literature would always imply that the boater would be "hit with a huge bill", but of course nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is it's the insurance company that will be hit with a bill, and it's great to see that misconception finally corrected by one of the county's largest boat insurers, Boat/US.

Thanks Boat/US for presenting a well informed press release about towing verses salvage.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

No Time for Losers

A guy buys himself a Rolex watch 40 years ago. He's fanatically careful with it, and even though its a dive watch good to about 180', he never wears it swimming, for fear of losing it. 3 days ago, he gently placed it on a cockpit cushion while he and his wife went for a dip off their chartered sailboat.

As they get out of the water, the cushion gets moved, and the Rolex goes overboard. Imagine his pain as he watched his watch sink in 30' of water...

This man is a diver, but away from home and on vacation, he has no dive gear. He is a part time captain for another tower, and he knows I'm out here, so he calls me within 20 minutes of the watch going overboard. But its now late in the day, and very overcast, so I know the light will suck down there. I tell him to buoy it off and we'll hunt for it in good light tomorrow.

Its been my experience that the chances of find small objects are greatly increased by a well placed marker. If you can drop a marker within about 5' of where the thing is, it can generally be found. I stress this point to the watchless guy, and he completely agrees, further stating that he is quite sure he put a mark very close to the spot.

The guy's luck starts to go from bad to worse while he is at dinner that night, and a very diligent harbor patrol spies a suspect fender floating in the mooring field, just off the transom of a transient sailboat. When brought to the surface, said fender has a large, heavy box wrench tied to it. That curious set-up is brought to the HarPat's office and secured in the evidence locker, in hopes of solving the great box wrench planting mystery of 2008.

The next morning, the watchless guy replants a second marker, this time a cement block, as close as he can figure to the spot where his treasured Rolex now lies. But, with the wind changes and swinging boat, the accuracy of this new mark is pretty suspect. At about 1100, I suit up and head down there to search.

The bottom here is pretty mucky, and the top few inches are silt. When diving down there, you have to stay just off the bottom, and every time the silt is disturbed, it becomes a cloud of dust, reducing visibility to zero. Without the dust cloud, I had 4' visibility at best.

Because Watchless Guy is a friend of a friend kind of thing, I'm on the "tryin to help a guy out" rate, so I tell him I give it my best for one dive.

There is all kinds of cool stuff down there! I saw three wine bottles, a huge boulder, and a lobster who came out of a Spackle bucket ready for a fight. I found this pair of RayBans, perhaps dropped by the same guy who drank those 3 bottles of wine.

Alas, I didn't find the Rolex. I fear the loss of the original marker has doomed our efforts.

Watchless Guy wasn't giving up that easily. The dockmaster had half a tank left from some other job, and he had quick look around the cement block, and then another diver spent 40 minutes around 2pm -they both came up empty handed. That afternoon, Watchless Guy heads into town and starts asking around about dive equipment. He is about 6'-2", so my medium wetsuit isn't gonna help, and the island dive shop closed down three years ago. What he finds is a guy who will loan him an underwater metal detector!

So Plan B is to begin the search the following day with the metal detector and a renewed optimism. By this time, I have retreated to the cheering section, offering only encouragement and maybe some dive gear. Secretly, I figure this whole operation is hopeless, due to the loss of the original marker and the bottom conditions.

By now, the story has spread through the marina, and everyone is pulling for this guy, who has not once complained, or bemoaned his luck. He has accepted every gesture of assistance graciously, and not once demanded a thing from anyone. He's everyman's optimist.

Once again, diver #3 heads down armed with the metal detector, but that operation fails, because there is a lot of metal stuff down there, and after sticking your hands into the muck a few times, you are lost in a cloud of thick, murky water.

But diver #3 is a larger size, and Watchless Guy is such a nice guy that #3 loans WG his wetsuit. WG is a dive instructor, and we round up another tank, my BC, some eles's booties...

Watchless Guy tries the metal detector, and quickly abandons that. But he move his cement block and searches, and moves the cement block, and searches....and feels, and searches.

Eventually, he's down to his last few minutes of air, so he surfaces and looks one last time at the transom of his boat, and makes one last, determined dive in the spot where the watch should be. He knows that watch is down there, ticking, keeping perfect time for a lobster who lives in a spackle bucket.

And there it was, right were he dropped it. Barely a half inch of the stainless band above the mud.

He returned to the dock to a hero's welcome, a man who's luck had made a complete about-face in just 48 hours. When I saw him on the dock, I don't think his feet were touching the ground. I suggested that he rush off to the casino while his luck was good, but he was content to just know what time it was.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Results are IN!

Well, the first annual Red Right Returning July 4th service survey is now complete. An exhaustively unscientific study of the results has been carelessly compiled by Rusty Shackle, VP of our market research division, who may have spilled some beer on the data before he had a chance to enter it all....

So, the overall grade for the 4th was about a B-, meaning that most markets experienced a "slow" 4th of July weekend. Not dead, not crazy busy. I think the best word for now will be soft. Business is soft, but boaters are going out, and breaking down. It will definitely be an off year, and no one is going to break any new records. (Except for, funny enough, my favorite bar on Block Island, which broke sales records 3 days in a row over the weekend. Rumor has it their profits increase when I'm not out towing boats...) To be sure, some areas are doing better than others, but the B- kinda sums up the overall. If your area was gang-busters, knock on wood; if your weekend sucked wind, take heart as there is hope.

SeaTow International released a statement today, which included this quote from JoeFro

Boaters across the country celebrated the holiday despite high fuel prices both on land and on the water,” said Capt. Joseph Frohnhoefer III, Sea Tow’s vice president of operations. “Reports from across the country indicate that boaters stayed close to home this year, however, that trend could be equally reflective of the unpredictable weather patterns that plagued much of the East Coast as it is of current economic conditions. [click here to read it all]

I think the "close to home" thing is right on, and distant harbors or island destinations like Block Island will probably suffer more during a soft year. For instance, the official boat count for Great Salt Pond was 1485 on Friday; 1800-2000 would be more typical numbers for a 4th of July. So, boaters showed up, just not in droves.

SeaTow also reported

While call volume at the company’s 24-hour national dispatch center was statistically on par with last year, it experienced a 30-percent increase in the number of requests for on-water assistance.

Wow, 30 percent increase over last year? The fuel docks would kill for those numbers...

Evidently, SeaTow's research budget exceeds ours here at RRR, because they go on with a bunch of impressive statistics about how many calls they did and exactly which hours were the most popular for their services and how many knots the entire SeaTow fleet tied in 24 hrs - that kind of stuff. [editors note: why doesn't BoatUS publish these kinds of stats?]

Now, a soft year should benefit the SeaTow business model, because if fewer members break down, the local franchisee keeps more of the membership income. But this dramatic report of a 30% increase doesn't sound like a soft year. Is there something about the color yellow that attracts boater who break down? With every segment of the recreational boating industry experiencing a slowdown, why would SeaTow be so busy?

Vicious Rumor: I heard a report that there were empty moorings over at Avalon, Catalina, over the weekend. I'm still contacting my sources to confirm, but it its true, that would be an unprecedented event.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Rescue 21 works when needed

Saw this item today from New Jersey:

LITTLE EGG HARBOR — A husband and wife who had fallen overboard and left behind four children in a boat in the bay Thursday afternoon were rescued by a passing salvage crew working for Towboat US.
The Coast Guard received a phone call from 16-year-old Cary Skrzat at 2:11 p.m. reporting that her parents,Phillip, 45, and Stacy Skrzat, 42, of Telford, Pa., had fallen off the family's 25-foot boat and drifted out of sight. The daughter and three other siblings remained on the boat but did not know where they were, said Petty Officer Nyxolyno A. Cangemi, a Coast Guard spokesman.
The Coast Guard then initiated a direction-finding system known as Rescue 21 to identify the boat's position through its radio signal.
As a rescue helicopter from the Coast Guard's Atlantic City station and a boat crew from the Barnegat Light station launched a search for the missing couple, a nearby commercial salvage crew from Towboat US overheard the call, found the couple and pulled them to safety.
The salvage crew then towed the family's boat to nearby Cedar Cove Marina in Tuckerton.
It remains unclear how or why the couple went overboard, Cangemi said, though they reported their boat's engine was disabled at the time.
The Rescue 21 system is a newly-established search command procedure that aims to reduce coverage gaps along the coastline and allow the Coast Guard to better monitor and track boats.
"Rescue 21 saved some lives today," said Petty Officer 1st Class Kyle Gerkens, who coordinated the search.

The final quote has me thinking we need a better public relations strategy. Rescue 21 certainly deserves the credit for finding the location of the signal from the boat with the kids on it, but it was the actions of the TowBoat/US crew that "found the couple" and therefore saved their lives.

Its great that Rescue 21 is up and operational, and it appears to function as designed - allowing the USCG to pinpoint an incoming radio signal. But I think a more accurate quote would have been "With the help of equipment like Rescue 21, a commercial salvor saved some lives today..."

Ok, I'm over it.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Bargains for Shoppers

I haven't ordered anything from these guys yet, but I did see a few good recommendations on the Internet.

Their prices on marine electronics are the best I've seen, so if you are in the market, why not give them a try?

Let me know if use them what the results are, either way.

Ferry Collision Update

Damage to the passenger ferry BLOCK ISLAND can be seen in this picture. That looks like a pretty good whack.

Plus, I found this detail over at Coast Guard News:

The commanding officer of the Morro Bay, Lt. Douglas Wyatt, took command of the Morro Bay in a change of command ceremony in Newport, R.I., Tuesday. The Morro Bay was headed back to its homeport in New London, Conn., following the ceremony when the collision occurred.

....thats gotta be the shortest command duty in history, don't you think?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

USCG Buoy Tender collides with Block Island Ferry

Wow, this is not the kind of news we expect to be hearing during this age of modern electronics - radar, AIS, GPS....

Earlier this afternoon, in dense fog, the passenger ferry BLOCK ISLAND (first photo) collided with the 140' USCG cutter MORRO BAY. (second photo) Preliminary reports are that there were no injuries, and minimal damage. [See new story here].

I spoke with one eye witness who saw the ferry after it arrived at Block Island, and he described a large, 3' dent/gash/gouge in the bow of the ferry.

Initial information indicates that the MORRO BAY was heading west, and the BLOCK ISLAND was southbound. My mental chart says that these boats were in a classic "crossing" situation, and once in visual sight of each other, rules 15, 16 & 17 would apply, with the MORRO BAY as the "give way" vessel. The waters this incident occurred in are international, so the COLREGS apply.

Complicating all that is the fog, which I can tell you gets as thick as pudding out here. So, until the final few moments, neither vessel had any "right of way", because they were not in visual contact.

But wait a minute. Where are the radar observers? The AIS, and ARPA? I know the captains on the ferries have 16oo ton licenses. I can't speak to what the qualifications of the operator on the buoy tender are; but one would assume he's not a junior coxswain. These are not amateurs out there; these guys are some of the most professionals that stand a wheel watch, and somehow, they managed to completely mangle a foggy crossing situation.

The ferry travels at about 16kts, and I would guess the buoy tender at 12-15kts. They should have had plenty of time to sort out some passing arrangements and avoid a collision.

The investigation into this incident will drag on, but the results should be fascinating. Stay tuned.