Remember, the ocean can be tricky ... stay safe out there

cdad@hiltonheadisland.netMay 30, 2012 

When you spend as much time on the water as I do, it's easy to forget just how powerful and deadly the ocean can be. All it takes is one little slip, and the ocean can take you in the blink of an eye.

Two recent events prompted me to think about this. First, did you hear about longtime local John Capin getting thrown overboard near Daufuskie Island? I have known John and his folks for nearly 40 years and he is one lucky son of a gun.

Second, I've been helping Bill Slate, a new boat owner here in Bluffton, teaching him the waters as well as fishing. These waters can be intimidating -- with obstacles such as oyster rakes, sand bars and our huge tides that can totally change the appearance of an area in the space of a couple of hours. It is especially challenging for someone new to the area and to boating. If I had to draw some kind of parallel, it might be like putting me behind the wheel of an airplane and asking me to fly it through a fog bank. I wouldn't know up from down, and it would be one very short flight indeed.

I won't say I am a reckless boater -- only because I have been on the dark side of the ocean and I know how fast things can go from being good to terrifying. One such event happened some years ago when local architect Wayne Windham and I headed out duck hunting in the dead of night in January. We had hunted together for years and this was just another day. We were in Wayne's duck boat heading south toward Turtle Island, the next island past Daufuskie, and instead of taking the Intracoastal Waterway we decided to run down the beach on Daufuskie, or the ocean side of the island.

Wayne's boat was sturdy with a wide beam and, up until this particular day, had been very reliable. We were both wearing waders because it was sbout 28 degrees outside and just as we reached the southern tip of Daufuskie, I moved my foot and heard a sloshing sound -- but by the time I could tell Wayne, the boat had rolled over on us.

It was pitch black and to make things worse, the tide was going out, making swimming hard -- especially with waders on. Luckily, I had grabbed my watertight backpack as we rolled over and that probably saved our lives. Wrapping our arms around it, we paddled toward shore, but Wayne's Labrador retriever kept trying to crawl up our backs. I guess he thought it was a game, but more than once that dog nearly drowned us. We made it to shore, but from then on, we always wore life jackets when we ran at night.

As much as I dislike rules and regulations, I am almost at the point of being a proponent of some sort of driver's test for boaters. Living just a couple of blocks from All Joy Boat Landing, I see some of the worst boaters on the planet. In most cases they are crappy, simply because they don't know any better. I don't have enough space to write about all the things I see, but here are a few tips that might just save your bacon.

One of the scariest things I regularly see is a child sitting on the bow of a boat with his or her legs dangling over the edge. If you were to hit something, that kid would be thrown overboard, and the boat would run over them.

Another thing I see all the time happens when folks are getting ready to dock their boats. Instead of staying seated until the boat gets right up to the dock, there is someone standing on the bow with the bow line in hand, ready to jump on the dock. Bad idea. If the boat is coming in too fast, it hits the dock and that person goes flying. I have seen this scenario too many times to count. Try docking going into the tide instead of with it and you will have significantly more control.

All I am saying is be careful. As beautiful as the ocean is, it can easily lull you into a false sense of security. But as any experienced boater will tell you, including myself, the ocean is to be respected each and every time you venture out.

God does not subtract from the allotted span of a man's life the hours spent in fishing. Columnist Collins Doughtie, a graphic designer by trade and fishing guide by choice, sure hopes that's true.

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