Terrible tragedy off Jupiter Inlet
This is truly a tragedy. My heart goes out to his family and friends. So many on this forum have ask how this could happen to a seasoned Captain. Well, here’s a news flash, it can and does happen often and can happen to anybody. I got so much mis-information when it first occurred, I was led to believe it was poor seamanship that caused his death. After reviewing the photos I have come to quite a different conclusion. Sorry Mr. Garlington, I mean no disrespect. I like your boats and the craftsmanship is excellent. The design is great and something like this will probably never happen again.
So let’s examine: Broaching is caused by the stern outrunning the bow. It is the condition where the boat presents its beam to the sea. This has happened, to a degree, to all of us that have fished offshore for a living for any amount of time. However, as mentioned in this forum, it is somewhat innocuous in the large swells with long periods. Outside of furniture being thrown about and people and un-stowed items sliding around, most boats tend to do just what the Waterdog did. The props, once able to bite, across the flow of water in the trough, allow the boat to run the trough between the seas. As long as the bottom is in the water the lesser pressure generated more evenly by increased forward motion allows stability.
So, what caused The Captain to be thrown from the boat?
Unfortunately, back in the day, most high end boat builders started eliminating the keel in their boat designs. To compensate for the lack of a keel, the hard chine was added. This kept the boat marginally tracking and helped get on plane faster and increased speed as the hull no longer pulled itself into the water but deflected the flow of water over the bottom (reverse of the Bernoulli theory). Then the fore foot (that portion of the bow stem below the water line) was swept back, ostensibly to reduce the bow wave and wake for Giant tuna fishing out of Cat Cay. Then Ray Hunt designed a Deep V hull for running in rough water. The depth of the V eliminated the keel as impractical. While having its advantage in some respects it lacks in others. Many custom boat designs incorporated this feature in some form. The Waterdog is a hard chine shallow fore foot planning hull with a somewhat modified V bottom. .
The conditions at the inlet, judging by the photos, from the powder blue water on the horizon and green water on the bar, appears as if, the tide was flooding (going in the inlet) and the current was going south (counter current from strong offshore gulfstream). The wind appears to be light, under fourteen knots, (few if any whitecaps).
As Captain Henry approached the bar, it was difficult to see the huge trough that had developed across the shallow bar. Even if he had, it should not have caused any alarm. A combination of the flood tide in the inlet pulling water off the bar’s west side and the counter current piling water up on the east side of the bar increased the frequency of the crest allowing a deep wide trough with a near vertical offshore side to develop.
From the photo’s, Captain Henry appears to have set up his approach. His bow was up, the forefoot was out of the back of the front of the swell, indicating he had reached the bar and had powered up to cross. Someone ask if he shouldn’t have stayed between the seas? Yes while approaching the bar he most likely did, but while crossing the shallow bar an increase in speed is desirable. As he reached the shallow part of the bar, judging from the photo’s, the boat appears to have fallen forward off the swell into the very deep trough. With the props and rudders out of the water the boat had no steerage and was most likely forced to starboard by the hard port chine digging in. As the next swell caught up to the stern of the Waterdog, it pushed the hull parallel to the bar. This action is called broaching. Because the bow did not have enough fore foot to actually stay in the sea it slammed into, and because of the lack of a keel or tracking board capable of maintaining a forward track, the force of the swell it just came through was now pushing the stern, it caused the boat to pivot well aft of the desired point. At this time the Captain was still at the wheel but had no control. The chine on the port side held fast as the offshore swell pushed under the vessel. Again, the lack of a keel came into play as the boat, while recovering from a near catastrophic heel, snapped back to her trim position in the trough. Had a keel been on the bottom, the recovery would have been much slower, and the snap roll would not have been as violent.
From the position of the throttles on the binnacle, the boat was carrying better than half her RPM’s on the port engine at least (could not see the starboard throttle, but assume it was similar) when it fell into the trough. This was the proper procedure to employ when crossing a shallow bar for three reasons, 1. The faster you go the less water you draw, 2. The faster you go the better chance you have of keeping the bow in the wave you are overtaking. 3. The faster you go, the less chance of the building, following sea breaking into your cockpit. An added benefit is the fact that if anything goes wrong, as it did in this case, the boat will be able to recover its trim once it starts moving again, as it did through the trough.
Make no mistake, Captain Tom Henry did everything right. Anybody saying different is simply wrong. It was the forces of nature and God’s will that he perished in the accident.
“Because of the violent snap roll”, he lost his grip on the boats steering wheel and a good man and a good Captain lost his life.
The professionals will know this to be true, my comments are directed to those of us that share the same passion as Captain Tom Henry did, but that lack the skills he did. I hope you don’t question his seamanship, as any of us that have been doing this for many years would have done it the same way. He just happened to hit a freak situation on the bar and would have recovered from it, as so many of us have done, if not for the violent snap roll.