By Dan Armitage
There’s a saying among recreational boaters that you’re not considered an “experienced” boater until you’ve run aground at least once. If that’s true, then I am a very experienced seaman, for I have run aground countless times in my 60 years of on-water experience. Granted, I have done quite a bit more boating than most, as an outdoor writer and boat reviewer for several national magazines. I also started my professional boating career when I lived in the Florida Keys, where I worked on commercial lobster and dive boats, enough so that I acquired the sea time, studied hard, and earned my USCG Master Captain credentials. Of course, I always had a boat of my own to “mess about” with, and as is the nature of the “skinny” water in the Keys, and tides constantly changing the depth of the water beneath the hull, I’ve been aground more often than I care to admit.
Even on my honeymoon. My bride and I were staying in Key West and took our 20-foot center console out for a sunset cruise one evening. To get to a spot where the view west wasn’t marred by what then was called “Tank Island” smack in the middle of Key West Harbor, we had to negotiate some channels through the surrounding shallows. Along the route, we passed a collection of abandoned boats that people were living aboard, before finding a spot to anchor with a great view of the light show.
After the sun and darkness descended, we headed back to Key West motoring slowly through the darkness and retracing our route using a spotlight to stay in the deeper channels. Along the way,
I was surprised to see some home-made channel markers on stakes driven into the sandy shallows, designed to show boaters where the deep-water channel was. I didn’t recall seeing them on our drive out, but figured they were worth following. Well, we immediately ran aground on a sand flat.
Not long after, a small boat appeared out of the darkness, with a couple of guys asking if we wanted them to pull our boat back to the channel. When I answered with grateful “heck yes!” the rather scraggly-looking fellow in the bow of the boat said “Ok. We usually get $100 for pulling boats off the sandbar.”
My wife rolled her eyes as I quickly referred to the tide charts for that night. When I confirmed that the tide was on the rise and we’d soon have enough water under the hull to motor off, we gave the would-be rescuers a “thanks but no thanks,” cracked a couple of Red Stripe beers and waited for the moon to do its thing. Meanwhile, we listened as the little boat puttered back to one of the derelict vessels where the pair were squatting.
An hour later we were pulling up to our dock after an adventurous twilight cruise. The next morning, we boated back to the spot to find where we had run aground and lo and behold, the markers were gone! It dawned on me that the dudes in the abandoned boat were placing their home-made markers just before nightfall, to direct night-time boaters to run aground – and hence require their services as salvagers. Yep: Piracy is still alive and well in the Florida Keys!
Boaters beware low water
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) reminds boaters to be cautious of low water in lakes this time of year. Low water levels can pose hazards to boaters — novice and experienced alike. Precipitation and evaporation together create seasonal cycles in lake levels.
Indicators of low water include:
- Caution signs posted at the lake.
- Visible sand bars in the water.
- Exposed logs or other hazards.
- High and dry launch ramps.
If these signs are present, boaters should exercise extreme caution when deciding whether to launch their boat. For example, in northeast Ohio, Michael J. Kirwin Lake at West Branch State Park has been well below the lake’s normal levels for this season. The Knapp Road boat ramp is closed due to low water. Warnings are posted on the park’s web page.
In the event of an emergency on the water, dial 911 for assistance. To reach a Natural Resources Officer, you can dial #ODNR from your cellular phone to be connected to ODNR dispatch.
New full-service campsites
The ODNR recently celebrated the completion of 26 updated campsites at Harrison Lake State Park now fitted with full-hookup amenities that provide electric, water, and sewer to campers at the park. These are the first full-service sites at Harrison Lake, and the total cost of the project was $1.8 million.
“We are excited to offer the most up-to-date amenities to the visiting campers,” said Glen Cobb, ODNR Division of Parks and Watercraft Chief. “Harrison Lake is a beautiful park, and we hope visitors will take advantage of everything it has to offer.”
Located in the midst of gently rolling hills in northwest Ohio, the 142-acre Harrison Lake State Park offers wooded splendor in an agricultural region. Harrison Lake is a popular spot for swimming, fishing, camping, and paddling. People can book their stay at ReserveOhio.com.
A dozen new cadets are training
Speaking of state parks, a dozen cadets are on their way toward becoming the newest Natural Resources Officers for the Ohio Division of Parks and Watercraft, tasked with protecting state parks, nature preserves, forests, and waterways. The cadets will take on months of training in the state peace officer program through the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Those who have already served previously in Ohio law enforcement will proceed to field training.
After which, all the cadets enter a new phase of training tailored to the needs of a Natural Resources Officer, such as water rescues, ATV use, close quarters boat navigation, and natural resources law.
The Natural Resources Officer cadets (and their hometowns) include:
- Tristan Ashcraft – Norton (Summit County)
- Megan Bedard – Fairborn (Greene County)
- Kassidy Hines – Washington Court House (Fayette County)
- Zachary Hudson – Cortland (Trumbull County)
- Caleb Mattocks – Meadville, Pennsylvania
- Connor Robinson – Xenia (Green County)
- Andrew Zorn – Athens (Athens County)
Natural Resources Officers in field training include:
- Maegan Bowling – Middletown (Butler County)
- Colt Barnhart – Scio (Harrison County)
- Nathan King – Lucasville (Scioto County)
- Makya Milhoan – Pomeroy (Meigs County)
- Sarah Theobald – Parma (Cuyahoga County)
The cadets were selected from 592 applicants, after they were interviewed and completed a pre-employment evaluation which included a background check, medical exam, psychological exam, and drug screen. The cadets also had to pass swim and physical fitness standards. After training, applicants will be assigned to serve in a specific state park area. The window to apply to be a Natural Resources Officer will open again this winter, news of which I’ll share here.
Dan Armitage is an award-winning outdoor writer, author and long-time contributor to Ohio’s Country Journal (firstname.lastname@example.org).