By now most of you have heard, read or seen the story about the Eleni II boat missing at sea from the Hudson Angler Shark Tournament June 15, Father's Day weekend. As I write this story the Coast Guard has suspended the search for the boat and one of the bodies has been found. News agencies and television crews called for my thoughts and views have contacted me from my years of experience on the water.
I attended the captains meeting the night before the tournament in what were not very comfortable conditions to begin with. Winds were NE at 20 knots with rain and drizzle. The marine forecast Friday night called for winds NE at 15 to 20 knots and seas 5 to 7 feet, building to 6 to 8 foot and then building 8 to 11-foot with a much better forecast on Sunday. Saturday morning I could see a nasty ocean and knew I was glad to be home gathering the fishing reports for that day's radio show.
On Friday evening, I questioned the tournament director on postponing the tourney to the pre-scheduled rain date of Sunday June 16, Father's Day. He said as always, the weather boat for the Hudson Anglers would go out the next morning and make the call as to the fishablility of the ocean. If the Hudson Angler weather boat thought it fishable, they would go. I was shocked to learn when I woke Saturday morning the tourney was going as planned. It was not a safe ocean to fish on and most knew it...including the captain of the boat lost at sea. This brings many questions to mind for me and for others I'm sure.
When a tournament director says the event goes off as planned, it is my opinion he must take into account the number of small boats entered in the tournament. You cannot make a "go ahead" judgment based on facts that 40 footers can get out while smaller boats will have difficulty. When you take an anglers' money ($325 for Hudson), each boat and contestant must have and equal opportunity and an equal right to fish for the prize he or she has entered to win. If a small boat cannot get out or will have adverse sea conditions then you must call OFF the tourney and reschedule for the predetermined Rain Date.
If not, you must return the boat's money or set parameters as to a certain minimum length boat allowed to fish the tourney. Most years seas average 3 to 5 foot so maybe only 35 foot or 40-foot minimum lengths for boats entered should be the case. However this tourney is known for the high number of small boat entries.
When a tournament goes as planned and the seas are treacherous, the captain of his vessel, no matter how small or how large must make the prudent decision to proceed or not through an inlet. Each "captain" has to take into account his experience on the water, his physical shape, the shape and experience of his crewmembers and the condition of his vessel and how it handles certain seas.
Is the boat new or old, new engine or old? It is the captain's responsibility when he hits the inlet whether to proceed or not. However if the tourney director says go ahead has he and the organization deemed the water safe enough to fish? Or just fishable and for what size boat is it fishable?
Other raise the question if your Rain Date is the next day and in this case was Father's Day, did they run the tourney on the edge of disaster as to not having to work and lose Father's Day with the family? If this is the case, maybe they should move the event off weekend so it doesn't conflict with Father's Day. As far as I know, they've never postponed this event in 30 years!
I've never been a big fan of shark tournaments and have said all along people do stupid things when big money's on the line. I didn't know the crew of the Eleni II. They would wave when they saw my boat on the water and I have no idea how experienced or inexperienced they were in offshore fishing. Does a $25,000 purse cause anglers to "push the envelope?" Would the crew of that fateful day have turned back in a catch and release tourney for prizes only or for just a regularly scheduled trip?
Obviously tournament directors around the island and the tri-state area will have to consider if it's worth it sending boats into questionable seas. Believe me, the Hudson Anglers are not the only ones making questionable calls when running tournaments. The Star Island tourney in Montauk on the same weekend allowed boats to sail and many lost windows, antennas and other equipment in very rough seas, some say 12-foot or more, rounding Montauk Point and very few were able to fish the tourney.
As for the fate of the Hudson Anglers? I imagine that in today's litigious society, lawsuits will be filed against the Hudson Anglers, probably the individuals running the club, those on the weather boat, the committee and tournament directors that gave the green light to fish that day. I'm sure lawyers are watching this one closely and are lining up outside the surviving family members homes with all kinds of legal advice. Will the club be around in a year? I don't know. I've done business with them in the past and they're all very nice people and individuals, who in my opinion made the wrong choice Father's Day weekend.
Much can be questioned when tragedy occurs, but fate has been tempted for decades in these tourneys! Tournament organizers have been lucky to this point, but as I've said before...if it were my tournament I would NOT have run it Saturday but postponed till the next day...ironically Father's Day. One more thing...an EPIRB could have saved those lost that day!