Digest — January 2004
By Capt. Patrick Sciacca
To Fish or Not to Fish
| Following a tournament
tragedy, Long Island politicians attempt to tell anglers when it’s
okay to leave the dock.
It was June 14, 2002, and I stood at the Hudson Anglers Shark Tournament captain’s meeting in Freeport, New York, my foul-weather gear soaked like a sea sponge. The northeasterly 15- to 20-knot winds made the cold, early evening rain even more painful. I called my crew and said, “We’re not sailing tomorrow even if the tournament’s a go.” I didn’t like what Mother Nature was dishing out. It had been blowing the entire day and appeared there was no immediate prospect of it lying down. I told my guys there would be other trips, and they readily agreed.
The next morning—under a Small Craft Advisory—the $25,000 tournament went on after the assigned weather boat reported conditions to be rough but fishable. Four experienced Long Island offshore anglers, Robert Wright, Robert Hammond Sr., Robert Hammond Jr., and Peter Quinn, broke the inlet in Eleni II, a 25-footer, looking for a winning fish. The four never came home. A brief and garbled Mayday is all that gave any indication that the vessel and crew were in distress. The bodies of some of the fishermen were found a couple of weeks later.
The yearlong finger-pointing maelstrom among anglers and victims’ family members that came in the wake of these tragic deaths was equal in rage to the tempest that took these fathers and husbands. Lawsuits were filed, and everyone wondered why the tournament hadn’t been postponed, especially when there was an appointed weather day. As a result of the finger-pointing and litigation, the Legislature of Nassau County (the area where the tournament was headquartered) has proposed a local bill that requires tournaments to be postponed if there is a Small Craft Advisory on tournament day. It defines a Small Craft Advisory as “sustained wind of 25 to 33 knots and/or seas with waves five feet in height or more within 12 hours.”
Is this legislation needed? Legislator Michael Zapson (D-Long Beach), who sponsored the bill, said in a July 2003 interview with Newsday, “We’re looking to take the decision-making out of the individuals’ hands.” That’s strong talk, especially to many anglers who pride themselves on prudent seamanship. Although the events of June 15, 2002 were tragic and any offshore angler’s worst nightmare, many PMY readers who voted in a recent online poll regarding this bill’s necessity are against the legislation.
“As a private pilot, I am responsible for the go/no decision that must be made prior to every flight,” says reader Bruce Silver. “I would hope that the people that operate boats, whether or not it is related to a fishing tournament, would be held to the same self standards.”
An angler who goes by the handle Weekend Fishaholic e-mailed us, “Boat owners must know the limits of their craft and experience. If I am interested in entering a fishing tournament, I enter the day of the tournament, which gives me a chance to verify the weather.” Added reader Tom Mason, “There is still some freedom left in this country; let’s not take the rest of it away.”
This article originally appeared in the December 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.