The Connelly Boat Building Center of Operations

by Guest Columnist Paul Browne

Too Close for Comfort

I witnessed a pretty tense situation in the harbor the other day, Shipmates. The Icebreaker Danielle had just slipped under the Causeway Bridge when it happened. The causeway Iím talking about runs along the north end of Tampa harbor. The Causeway Bridge is just west of the shrimp docks, and the harbor is a just a basin along there, only 300 yards or so across. East of the shrimp docks, the basin opens onto a bigger part of the harbor that runs south, down to a channel that enters Tampa Bay. Now the other day there was a Navy ship docked along the south bank across from the Causeway. So as soon as we cleared the bridge, I turned sharply eastward, and hugged the north shore to give the warship a good wide berth. These days the Navy is really touchy about boats getting too close. There was a Zodiac patrolling slowly back and forth about 200 yards out from the ship. I didnít want to give them reason for concern. And there were sailors up on the bow of the ship, standing next to an ugly looking machine gun. I didnít want them worried either. So I waved to the guys in the Zodiac and plugged along at 6 knots, keeping well clear.

Well just as I got abeam of the warship, I spot this metalflaker coming up the wide part of the harbor from the south. The thing is about 30 feet long and itís loud and fast, must have been doing 20 or 30 knots. Itís got this long bow, with a reverse sheer, and there are 4 people in the cockpit, two shirtless doorknob-dudes and a couple of bimbo-babes in bathing suits. Soon as he spies the Navy ship, the ďdriverĒ decides they want a closer look. So he makes a hard turn and heads westward towards us. Now it so happened that when he came around the corner into view and pulled this bonehead maneuver, the guys in the Zodiac were nearing the westward end of their little patrol pattern, the wrong end. And the metalflaker was going so fast that he was almost up to me by the time they saw him. But see him they did, and they turned right smartly and opened the Zodiac up to head him off. So hereís this knucklehead screaming right up the middle of the harbor, about to come alongside of the ship, and the Zodiac going hell bent for leather, trying to get in his way, and the sailors on the bow of the ship are jumping for the gun. Then the guy sees the Zodiac coming at him, figures heíd better turn around, and he does the unthinkable. Instead of doing his U-turn north, towards me and away from the ship, the idiot turns south, and speeds towards the warship! I stood there, jaw open, watching him artfully carve his turn towards death and destruction. First he was pointed at an angle towards the stern, and then he was headed directly amidships and closing on it fast. And just then, right when that twenty year old sailor on the bow gun must have been looking through his sights at him, right when he was biting his lip and feeling for the trigger, thatís when I realized the metalflaker was crossing the line running straight between me and that machine gun.

Well the guy got lucky. Maybe the kid on the gun was sharp enough to watch the metalflakerís hands, see if he was going to steer out of his turn when he was pointed at the ship. Maybe he took a look at the boat and crew and decided they were merely idiots. Or maybe the Zodiac had the angle covered. Anyway, the idiot got away with it, just kept turning and running till only his stern showed. It looked to me like he came within 50 yards of the ship. The Zodiac chased him down the harbor for a little while, but they were a lot slower than he was, and they soon gave it up.

Sometimes all you can do is shake your head and wonder what keeps some guys alive.