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Orange County Commentary : 'Survivors Rebuild Lives' After Boat Crash in Anaheim Bay

February 17, 1985

Re your Feb. 3 story "Survivors of Boat Crash Rebuild Lives":

I am, of course, sympathetic to Virl Earles and his surviving passengers in their injuries and sufferings. Nonetheless, when will the likes of Virl Earles ever learn these terrors of inshore and inland waterways?

I have brought big ships, freighters and tankers into major harbors at night, when an error in judgment can be disastrous and when the barrage of lights can be unnerving unless one is properly familiar with the harbor. But the ever-present danger, one over which the master or pilot has little to no control, is the small boat in the hands of an unknowledgeable operator, the fool who knows little to nothing of the buoyage system or the Navigation Rules.

Earles' contention that the mooring buoy in Anaheim Bay that he struck should have borne a light attests to his unfamiliarity with the U.S. buoyage system, and his admitted illegal speed of 17 knots within the harbor attests to his lack of knowledge of waterborne traffic in general.

A disaster such as Earles' is a possibility in any Southern California harbor, be it a big ship or a yacht harbor.

For a number of years I sailed as a volunteer skipper aboard a Sea Scout vessel out of Newport Harbor. I had to be especially alert when returning to Newport Bay on a Sunday afternoon in the summertime. With apparently little concept of the rules of the road or the buoyage system, hot-doggers in rental boats darted about wildly. There were private yachts too whose operators where somewhat hazy in these matters. And generally beer and booze flowed freely.

To obtain a license to drive an automobile an examination on the traffic rules and a driving test are required. The rules of the sea and the techniques of boat handling are far more complex. Yet no test or examination is required. Any thoroughgoing lubber can buy a small boat, put it into the water and blithely putt-putt off. Thus we have potential disasters.

Chapman's "Piloting Seamanship and Small Boat Handling" is the small boatman's bible. It should be mandatory that every boater become acquainted with it.

STEPHEN G. FREEMAN

Newport Beach

I am a boater responding to the article Feb. 3 regarding the Anaheim Bay boating accident.

I am extremely upset by the attitude of the driver Virl Earles, and by the attorneys representing him and his passengers, who seem to feel that he has no responsibility whatsoever for the deaths of five people. In my estimate, the man is wrong--dead wrong.

He was drunk. A .11 blood alcohol level was recorded two hours after the accident. This is definitely drunk on the road. Why not on the water?

He was speeding. He was traveling at least 17 knots. There is a legal speed of 6 knots allowed. If he had hit the buoy at this speed, the tragedy would not have been so great--probably structural damage to the boat would have been the extent of the accident.

The skipper is responsible for the safety of his crew. If he hadn't drunk so much, maybe he would have remembered to check the number of life jackets on board before leaving the dock.

He was not in the marked channel. A skipper is responsible for being able to understand the meanings of lights and to be able to use a navigational chart, which gives all the information regarding safe and unsafe channels and the lights and buoys that are in the area.

The boat was overloaded--nine adults on a 20-foot boat is like stuffing nine adults in a Datsun.

Earles is a fisherman by trade. He should have had enough experience and common sense to realize the dangers.

I will feel extremely unsafe as a boater if this man is allowed to go scot-free. If he can do it and get away with it, what's to prevent others? There is already too much drinking by irresponsible boaters.

JANET KLEINSCHMIDT

Costa Mesa

DR

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