The Saint Lawrence River will always be a challenge for any size boat. Strong currents are the rule. Big ships ply these waters.
One night in 1995, I launched my 1972 Boston Whaler in Chippewa Bay, New York. The primitive channel had no markers or lights, just winding shoals and rocks. A safe return on a calm night might only be possible with radar, night vision and GPS. All I had were a road map and a compass. I secured the kill-switch safety lanyard, and the new 75 hp motor and depth finder came to life. A 6 hp “get home” motor was in place (it helped catch more fish too), and I had a spotlight. I was on a timetable, just off work.
The VHF radio reported a chance of storms, and at 11 p.m. it was 85 degrees F with 90 percent humidity and calm. That was abnormal for this latitude and a big tip-off to stay home. I decided to anchor until morning.
At 3 a.m., without warning, my protected anchorage became a cauldron of hell. The flare gun was loaded; the air horn was in reach. I stayed low and kept my cool. This was the first time I ever wore a life jacket, a Type I fitted with a strobe, reflective patches, whistle, and a length of line I could use to tie myself to an overturned boat.
I heard the bilge pump kick in.
Later, the weather service would report documented microburst winds in excess of 100 mph. My Bimini top (I should have doused it) looked like a prop from the tornado scene in The Wizard of Oz. All three fluke anchors deployed off the bow pulled out of the grassy bottom. Power onshore was out for a week in the area.
Read Next: Almost Over Niagara Falls
I should have heeded the weather forecast and my instinct about the odd weather conditions for my boating area. I should have used an anchor better-suited to tall grass, or consulted a nautical chart, which would have told me the composition of the bottom at different locations, unlike my road map. Marine electronics are cheap, relative to the benefit they provide, and would have helped me greatly. I should not have left my Bimini top up; it got ruined and undoubtedly added windage that aided in the anchors pulling out. I should not have put my schedule in front of safety factors.
I now live in Utah, and I hope to apply my lessons as I consider using that same old Boston Whaler on Lake Powell.
Wanted: Your Stories
Share your boating mistakes and mishaps so that your fellow boaters might learn from your experience. Send us your first-person accounts, including what went wrong, what you’d do differently, your name and your city, to [email protected] and use “ILAB” in the subject line. If your story is selected for publication, we’ll send you a $100 West Marine Gift Card!”