OCEAN CITY — The buildup of sand at the mouth of the Great Egg Harbor Bay has created tricky and potentially dangerous boating conditions this summer. Also, big swells from recent coastal storms have made navigating one of southern New Jersey’s most popular bays even trickier.
And worse: the channel markers — the stationary signs that tell boaters where deep water is supposed to be — are inadvertently luring boaters into dangerously shallow waters.
The Coast Guard is aware but has not acted yet to relocate the navigational aids due to rough weather.
That leaves boaters to fend for themselves until a safe route is marked. And some boaters believe there is no reliable deepwater course and that only dredging can solve the safety issue.
John Ryan, owner of Towboat U.S., said big boats have to worry about running aground, while even small boats have to be wary of capsizing in the waves.
He saw a 25-foot sport-fishing boat that flipped two Sundays ago when waves from Hurricane Danielle churned up the inlet. Nobody was injured.
And when a boater on a personal watercraft tried to help by taking a tow line to another boat that had run aground in shallow water, his craft rolled and tumbled in the water, Ryan said.
On the surface, New Jersey’s inlets seem like consistent bodies of water, but beneath the surface they are constantly shifting, Ryan said.
“The inlet is definitely changing — and dramatically,” Ryan said. “The whole thing changes almost every time we go out there.”
Ryan said dredging for Ocean City’s beach-replenishment project in the spring could be to blame for the latest shoals.
The U.S. Coast Guard said its navigational unit is aware of the problem and will be going out when weather conditions calm down to take soundings of the inlet to identify where the new channel should be remarked.
But boaters said the agency should act with greater urgency.
“I don’t think you can rely on Mother Nature to solve this problem,” Philadelphia attorney Perry de Marco said.
De Marco sails a 36-foot boat in the Great Egg Harbor Bay when he comes to his summer home in Margate.
Taking the inlet now is scary, even for an experienced sailor, he said.
“I’ve navigated this inlet my whole life,” he said. “Halfway in, it was so treacherous that I almost decided to go back out because it would be safer. Fortunately, I made it in safely.”
He took a small powerboat on the water last weekend to try to map out a safe route on his global-positioning satellite. But he crisscrossed the inlet without finding one.
“What about inexperienced boaters who get lured into the channel and don’t know about this problem?” he asked. “They need to take action to dredge this channel and make it safe.”
The bay is home to thousands of boats from marinas and lagoons across Upper and Egg Harbor townships, Ocean City, Ventnor, Longport and Somers Point.
Several sailboats were damaged this summer on the unforgiving sandbars, including Stanley and Tricia Fleishman’s 42-foot sailboat Delphinis, which they moor at Seaview Harbor Marina in Egg Harbor Township.
They have been navigating the inlet for 35 years. On Aug. 8, they were taking a friend out to the ocean to spread a relative’s ashes when their boat nearly capsized. It ran aground in the middle of the navigation channel.
“We came crashing down very hard. It was unnerving and unsettling,” Tricia Fleishman said. “We were very lucky.”
The impact damaged the boat’s rudder. The couple is more careful about planning their voyages now, she said.
“We are prisoners of the tides at the moment. We will not go in or out at low tide,” she said.
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