Publication:The Virginian-Pilot, Section:Commentary, Page:96, Date:Sunday, June 05, 2005 Sunday, June 05, 2005

Speeding tugs are a menace on the Elizabeth River

    On Memorial Day in the Elizabeth River near the naval base, we were running south from a weekend trip to the Eastern Shore on our 42-foot boat.

    A tug was heading upriver at a very high rate of speed, plowing a mountain of water.

    As we passed the tug with its formidable bow wave, I called to everyone to prepare for a huge wake. I stopped all power and turned the boat’s bow directly into the wake, which was at least 6 or 7 feet high. It totally buried our bow in heavy water.

    Binoculars, books, everything that wasn’t fastened down went flying from every spot. The galley was destroyed; one person was thrown to a bulkhead and, fortunately suffered no more than a bruise or two.

    When I looked back at the menacing tug, a small sail boat and several fishing boats appeared to be at the point of capsizing. The radio was suddenly full of, “Why is he going so fast? What’s the emergency?”     One telling response was, “no one regulates these guys.”     From my balcony in downtown Norfolk I see a regular parade of Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake and Virginia State Marine Police boats stopping small outboards whose wakes are less than a foot or two and presumably writing them tickets for speeding.

    Are tugs immune from the rule that says, “You are responsible for your wake”? Why are they given a pass?

    Tug boats, with their immense displacement and enormous power, can create tsunami-like waves. They are potentially lethal in restricted waters and in close encounters with small boats.

    It is time that the Coast Guard and the local Marine Police refocus on this menace and stop harassing small boats whose wakes are little more than a ripple.

    Get the big guys who really do damage. Or are they outside the law?

    J. Daniel Ballard     Norfolk

A tug heads down the southern branch of the Elizabeth River.