An unfair rap for boating community

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin (10/14/00)
By Ray Pendleton

A recent editorial in the morning newspaper caught my eye.

The headline read, "Isle boaters shouldn't rely entirely on luck."

It was in reference to the two Kailua men, Ian Buscher and Tom Zelco, who had survived three days adrift in an open 14-foot Boston Whaler, mostly because of good fortune rather than good seamanship.

The editorial recommended that "it's a good time to review what they and the rest of Hawaii's boating community can learn from their ordeal."

Wait a minute, I thought. I agree those two men showed they have a lot to learn about safe boating, but they certainly aren't representative the people I know in Hawaii's boating community.

For the most part, our boating community is made up of individuals who take great pride in their ability to safely navigate Hawaii's often unforgiving waters.

Judging by the reports in the media and from the Coast Guard, the two Kailua men had taken their small skiff on a cross-channel voyage to Moloka`i to go surfing.

Apparently, crossing the 25-mile Kaiwi Channel looked inviting because our islands had been experiencing very light winds and the sea was extremely calm.

They reportedly loaded the boat with two surfboards, a wake board, a Labrador dog, a case of beer, a half-bag of ice, some canned juice, four Pop Tarts, a box of Cheez-Its and a bag of trail mix. They also had life jackets, a little over 18 gallons of fuel for their 50 horsepower outboard, and two cellular phones for communications. But that was it. Hello? What's wrong with this picture?

There aren't many people I know in our boating community who will venture out of the harbor without things like VHF marine-band radios, emergency position-indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs), smoke and signal flares, strobe lights and dye markers. And that's aboard sea-going vessels, not on a small Boston Whaler that's designed for protected waters.

So, the two guys made it to Moloka`i safely, surfed for a few hours, and then headed back for O`ahu. Only they couldn't see the island, so they just figured they'd head north for a while and then veer to port after an hour and a half, or so, to hit O`ahu's windward coast.

It's not hard to imagine them speeding along, having a great time bouncing from one wave to the next. But after over five hours - heading further north than intended - they still hadn't spotted land, they were nearly out of fuel and their cell phones weren't working.

Three days later, after a massive, 51,000 square mile, air/sea search by the Coast Guard, Navy and Civil Air Patrol, at an estimated cost of $800,000, the men were found floating in their boat in good condition about 50 nautical miles northwest of O`ahu.

As the newspaper's editorial pointed out, much of the rescue cost and the men's families' anguish could have been avoided if the boat's inventory had just included a $300 VHF radio.

But I find exception to its conclusion that, "It is to be hoped that the rest of the Hawai`i boating community takes note and adjusts."

In Hawaii's real boating community that I know, nearly everyone has taken Power Squadron and C.G. Auxiliary boating classes and practices good seamanship. And they have logged thousands of channel crossings without incident.

Perhaps the morning paper's editorial advise should have been more properly directed to those who need to become a part of Hawaii's boating community.

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