My thoughts

by Pat Bradford
Wednesday, February 26, 2014

It is that time of year when those who have boats in the water take them out for a spin, and so the under-power marine traffic out on the inland water has picked up each successively warm day, as everyone who can get back out there wants to after a hard, cold winter. 

And this means the swimmers, the paddleboarders, the kayakers and canoers — who have had things pretty much to themselves for months — will have to learn to share again, which means revisiting safety techniques.

Water temperatures, rather than air temps, matter to this group and increasingly they are swaddled in wetsuits. Many have been out there on and in the water on decent days all winter. Owners of motorized craft need a bit warmer air temp to really enjoy getting the boat out for a spin. Throttle up and it gets chilly pretty fast. 

Last fall, a property owner who lives half time at Wrightsville, the other in Raleigh, started collecting signatures on a petition to slow down motorized craft on the in-close water along the southern portion of Wrightsville’s Banks Channel. 

Jerry Cook has owned a place at the beach for 29 years. He is a large powerboat owner, with his boat docked in front of his home on Harbor Island.  The view from his house faces east-southeast across Banks Channel, with a solid view of the Blockade Runner day and night. Whatever craft are moored in Banks Channel and whomever cruises, sails, swims or paddles by, Jerry sees them. Go spend an hour on a warm afternoon and view the traffic; it can be an eye opener to the uninitiated. 

When small sailboats are out for a regatta, Jerry has a front-row seat. He is, what in journalistic circles and in the courtroom, would be deemed an expert witness. And as such, Cook is spearheading the petition for a no-wake zone or a 5 mph zone to be declared to run from the Banks Channel Causeway Drive bridge to green marker No. G13, lying south of the intersection of Motts Channel and the Carolina Yacht Club.

The only no-wake zones in the waters surrounding Harbor Island and on the lee-side of Wrightsville are in the ICWW in the marina district and under the draw bridge, and in Motts Channel and Lees Cut. That no-wake zone was a long contentious time in coming. 

In 2012, the town governing body realized saltwater and spray from tens of thousands of Jet Skis and other marine craft was causing rust and the deterioration of metals that support the low Banks Channel bridges, they declared the waters beneath both bridges to be no-wake. Then, too, you can’t blast past the Coast Guard station.

One of Cook’s neighbors, Captain Brent Futch, is a lifelong Wrightsville Beach resident who is also a professional marine captain, traveling Maine to the Gulf Coast to work. Yet another is Dr. Bill Sisson, former board of alderman member and former county commissioner. Both, like Cook, live on Banks Channel, although Sisson at the point of land where Motts Channel takes a hard turn around Harbor Island when headed toward the inlet. And like Cook, they each have a magnified view of all that ventures past their homes’ waterfront picture windows, day or night. 

Both speak of witnessing close calls in Banks Channel pretty much on a daily or every other day basis. All three men support the petition and cite safety as a huge concern, asking, how many close calls before there is a tragedy?

I also live in a location where I see close calls between boats under power and swimmers, paddleboarders and small craft. I am fortunate enough to live on a no-wake zone so I do not have to contend with the constant wave action created by boats screaming by every second in the summertime. But I once lived on a 40-foot trawler, which docked for a while on the ICWW, and even though there was a no-wake zone posted, the wave action on weekends was good enough to surf on.  

One of my favorite restaurants anywhere is Lulu’s Waterfront Grill on the ICWW (Waypoint: N3012.620 W08124.568 for mariners) in Palm Valley, Florida. I grew up nearby. Again, even with a no-wake posted there, in places the ICWW, fondly called the ditch, is not very wide and the wake from passing boaters rocks the docks when I dine with my sister on Florida shrimp on their deck over the water. 

But wakes hitting docks or bulkheads and riprap is not the issue here; wakes hitting sailors, paddleboarders, swimmers, kayakers, canoers and other small boats is the point of the petition. Safety first. A powerboat running over a paddleboarder, swimmer, kayak, or canoe is a huge concern when you see them steaming along, oblivious to the smaller craft in the water around them.

Yes, because the nature of what they do is to ride wakes, water skiers, wake boarders and tubers being pulled behind boats would no longer be permitted to do this along this section of Banks Channel. But we are not talking about a huge stretch of water. However, we are talking about one that sees first-time kayakers and paddleboarders cross from one side of the channel to the other, triathletes training, and small boats putt-putting or sailing along for an afternoon cruise. When a sports fisherman or other large boat barrels by, as they love to do, swimmers, paddleboarder, kayakers and the like are sitting ducks. The wake these big boats create can swamp even the most expert captain, putting the smaller guy in grave danger of being injured or worse. Toss in some alcohol on a hot day and it is a recipe for disaster. 

There are just too many craft of all kinds, plus humans using the waters surrounding Harbor Island and this section of Banks Channel to delay creating this much needed no-wake zone.

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