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On a Rock and a Hard Place

The last place in the world you want to take your boat

by Sandra Olivetti Martin with Doug Roberts

September 7, 2012

    Guess we had another one. Heard it hit Saturday night. Around 10:45pm, a 24- to 25-foot boat hit the Rockhold Creek jetty on its way in. No moon, apparently traveling too fast without using a spotlight and apparently missed the channel entrance light marking the end of the jetty and entrance to the creek. Seems it was moving along at a good rate of speed to get this high on the wall.

    The wide waters of the world are full of wonderful places to take your boat. The last place in the world you want to go is on the rocks. Yet let there be a hard place — whether deposited there by God or human hands — and a boat is sure to land there.
    In Maryland waters, luckless boaters have left few hard spots unvisited. Channel markers, buoys, lighthouses, bridge supports and dams are among the last places many an ill-fated boat will encounter.  Their sad stories make long chapters in the reports of the Maryland Natural Resources Police.
    Among all the hard places, none may be more visited than the pair of 900-foot-long jetties guarding the Deale harbor at Rockhold Creek.
    Since childhood, Doug Roberts has had a ringside seat on the action.
    “I live only a few houses from the jetty where they hit and can see the jetty from my front yard,” said Roberts, who’s out with a camera to document most hits.
    The first jetty, built in 1939, attracted its fair share of boats.
    “The first one I recall was when I was young and we would stay down here at the beach house in the summer,” Roberts said. “It was an old wooden work boat that came in at night when the jetty wasn’t as tall and the tide was very high. It was in the late 1960s or early 1970s. My dad and I went out to help them that night.”
    Jetties appear on nautical charts, but those are paper or electronic.
    In real life, a series of illuminated aids guide boats through the narrow channel between them. But darkness flattens the pathway into an apparently two-dimensional color-scape of flashing red and green.
    Boats lack headlights, and spotlights are typically an add-on. So unless you know what to look for in the darkness, the jetties are all too easy to find. Most years, at least one boater crashes on that hard lesson.    
    Beyond profound embarrassment and a big hole in your boat, the cost is often injury. Once, at least, death.

August 19, 2012

    Unusual: This makes two in one year … so far.
    Water was calm but the night moonless. This one must have gone quite a ways up the jetty and turned, since the stern is on the jetty and the bow is in the water. Only the captain was aboard, and he wasn’t hurt.
    The name of the boat is What’s Next. So many comeback lines to that one.

    –DR

May 27, 2012

    A boat ran up on the end of the west jetty heading into the entrance of Rockhold Creek. I heard they were simply unfamiliar with the harbor and entrance.
    –DR

July 4, 2010

    At 12:58am, the Maryland Natural Resources Police charged Michael Shawn Stewart, age 57 from Deale, with operating a vessel while under the influence of alcohol and negligent operation of a vessel. Two of the seven passengers on the vessel were treated for non-life threatening injuries at Anne Arundel Medical Center.
    –NRP

August 8, 2009

    At about 11:15pm Wednesday night, a boat came totally out of the water and crashed into the jetty, where it currently sits at a 45 degree-angle. I heard the crash and called the accident in.
    –DR

    Harry L Taylor Jr., 77, of Owings in Calvert County died from injuries he sustained when his 23-foot Parker Sport Cabin ran aground on a stone jetty. Gerald Gregory Bowen was a passenger in the vessel and was not injured. Anne Arundel Fire and Rescue responded to the scene and transported Mr. Taylor to shore where he was pronounced dead.
    –NRP

15 to 20 Years Back

    A cigarette boat came in too fast, high tide again at night, and almost went over the jetty. It actually pushed some of the large rocks on top out of place.
    –DR

    “I heard most of these hit,” Roberts recalls, “loud enough that I could hear the collision with all windows and doors closed. The engines would then always over-rev before they’re shut down. In the eeriest ones, the engines are revving and you can hear the propeller hitting the rocks as the boat sits stationary on the wall. After hearing the noise before, you instantly know what it is associated with. You wonder if anyone is hurt.
    “You go out to look and you can hear people; sometimes they yell, as they are often confused on what happened. But there’s no easy way to reach them. You call 911 and it seems like an eternity before the fire department arrives. Then everyone shows up …”