Hard Aground

Rob Temple
If you were a boat captain, this would make sense to you.
If you were a boat captain, this would make sense to you.

A grounded trawler caused ferry service to be suspended on Monday.

Early Monday morning a 75’ trawler ran aground near marker 10B in Big Foot Slough Channel.

One might think this would be a problem only for those aboard the trawler in which case one would be sadly mistaken.

As many savvy readers of the Current are aware, Big Foot Slough Channel happens to be the constantly-shoaling and frequently-dredged ferry entrance to Ocracoke from the mainland ports of Cedar Island and Swan Quarter. The section wherein the trawler grounded is a major trouble spot with only enough width (on a good day!) for one vessel to pass at a time.

So, as it turned out, this was a big problem for the passengers aboard the ferry Sea Level which arrived on the scene minutes later, having departed from Cedar Island at 7 a.m. Here they were, after nearly two hours of the voyage within only minutes of what the airlines like to refer to as their “final destination” and “voila!”

For an anxious period, captain, crew and passengers waited with 'bated breath to see if the trawler would be able to free herself so that they could proceed on their way. Wrong bait. Nothing biting. The Sea Level, finally, having no other choice, returned to Cedar Island.

It wasn’t until early afternoon that the trawler finally got free but by then, all Monday runs between the island and mainland had been cancelled. By Tuesday morning, everything was back to normal.

I called the Ferry Division’s information officer Tim Hass in hopes of filling in some blanks for this story, e.g., the name of the trawler, whether the grounding was due to helmsman error or shoaling within the channel itself, who finally freed the trawler, any resulting damage, etc. But Mr. Hass had little to offer besides what the division had already put on Facebook yesterday. He did acknowledge that the section of the channel where the incident occurred was a known trouble spot. When I asked who pulled the trawler into navigable water he was unsure but said he thought the captain may have called a buddy to help him out. That made sense to me as a commercial boat owner. While most pleasure boaters are members of one of the “Triple A’s” of the water (SeaTow or Towboat/US), these organizations don’t have deals for commercial vessels so we’re pretty much on our own.

Not an actual photo from Monday's incident.
Not an actual photo from Monday's incident.
I found this on the internet!

Still hoping to fill in some blanks, I called the Hatteras Inlet USCG unit and was referred to Sector N.C. (Wilmington or Morehead, I presumed) who told me that the case was closed so, due to the Freedom of Information Act, I needed to call yet another number where a recording invited me to leave a message. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the White House. Maybe just the Coast Guard Commandant’s home phone. In that case, I suspect that returning my call may not be his/her first priority.  That’s okay. I’m not holding my breath. It might smell like bait.

Read more about the planned dredging of Big Foot Slough here.  

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