East Coast Alerts

By Mel Neale

“Tis the Season of the Right Whale:
In March 2004 a North Atlantic right whale was followed by national television as rescuers sought to remove entangling lines, likely from fishing gear, which threatened to kill the huge animal. Such lines can impair swimming and can cut into the flesh of younger animals as they grow to their 50 ft. adult length. He was named “Kingfisher” for the USCG vessel attempting rescue and he swam out to sea before the lines were completely removed. Even though he had a telemetry buoy attached to one of the lines, the rescuers lost his track when a boat ran over the buoy. He was not expected to survive. But this year he was spotted again and known to have spent the summer off the coast of Maine. One flipper was still entangled, but most of the other lines were gone.

And then a year ago, a right whale named “Yellowfin,” also entangled with lines, was cut free by rescuers off the coast of the Carolinas. We followed this story in the local TV news with much interest as we spent the holiday season at Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor in St Augustine, FL. There we heard almost daily VHF reports to the coast guard of right whale sightings offshore, from both pleasure and commercial vessels. It was refreshing to know that so many were sighted when the total world wide population of North Atlantic right whales is estimated to be now only around 300. Their name is believed to be derived from the idea that they were the “right” whale to kill for food, oil and bones, and thus almost hunted to extinction.

And this season we have another entanglement story. It happened to a young 35 ft. long right whale, probably a yearling with another 10 to 15 ft. to grow. He (they are not sure of the sex, but have taken a sample of tissue for testing) had around 400 ft. of line wrapped and trailing when spotted off the coast of Georgia on December 3, 2005 during a routine aerial survey. Off northern Florida, a team from the Coast Guard and NOAA cut away all but about 75 ft. of trailing line and attached a tracking buoy and floats to keep him from diving, fearing that he would drown because of difficulty swimming. Weather forced the team to stop before all line could be removed. This whale then turned north. Weather prevented any further attempt to disentangle him until Monday, December 12, as he swam around 50 miles off Cape Hatteras. As of today, Wednesday December 14, “Nemo” as he has been nicknamed, has broken free of his tracking buoy and was last seen swimming northward. There is sadly nothing more to do for this whale until he is sighted again. NOAA and the Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Network sources report that eleven right whales (including “Nemo”) of the approximately 300 believed to exist have been documented to have some sort of lines entangling their bodies.

We are reminded in each East Coast USCG Local Notice that the “severely endangered Northern Right Whale may be encountered within 20-30 nautical miles of the Atlantic seaboard as they migrate between the Straits of Florida and the Gulf of Maine. Right whales are slow moving animals that are prone to collisions with ships. Vessel operators are reminded to use caution and proceed at safe speeds in areas used by the Right Whales during this migration to minimize the possibility of collision with ships and vessels. Intentionally approaching within 500 yards of Right Whales is prohibited and is in violation of federal law. A minimum distance of 500 yards must be maintained from a sighted whale. NOAA recommends that vessel operators assume that any whale sighted within 30 nautical miles of the coast is a Right Whale. Commercial vessels over 300 GT are reminded to comply with the requirement of the mandatory ship reporting system”.

The 7th District LNMs remind us that “from December to March the coastal waters between Altamaha Sound, GA, and Sebastian Inlet, FL, are used as calving grounds by the severely endangered North Atlantic Right Whale. This is the world’s only known calving ground for this species. Right Whales are the rarest whales in the world and are protected under law from disturbance or injury by the endangered species act of 1973, and the Marine Mammal Protection act of 1972. Right Whales, especially females and their calves, are slow swimmers and frequently lie at the surface. This behavior makes them vulnerable to collisions with ships, which are a significant source of mortality. Vessels operating within 25 miles of shore between 31-27N and 29-50N and within five miles of shore from 29-50N and 28-00N should take precautions to avoid collisions with Right Whales.”

If you’re still boating in COLD Connecticut now, take heed:
The First District USCG Commander has issued a temporary deviation from the drawbridge operation regulations for the Amtrak Old Lyme RR Bridge at mile 3.4 across Connecticut River, Connecticut. This deviation is necessary in order to facilitate necessary bridge repairs. Under this temporary deviation the bridge shall operate on a fixed schedule for bridge openings from November 21, 2005 through December 22, 2005 as follows: From Monday through Friday, the bridge shall open on signal at
8:15 a.m., 12:15 p.m., and 2:15 p.m., daily. From 4 p.m. through 8 a.m. the bridge shall open on signal after a four-hour advance notice is given. On Saturday and Sunday, the bridge shall open on signal at 8 a.m., 10 a.m., 1 p.m., and 4 p.m., daily. From 4 p.m. through 8 a.m. the bridge shall open on signal after a four-hour advance notice is given. The bridge shall open on signal for commercial vessels at any time after a four-hour advance notice is given. Mariners can contact bridge operator at 860-510-5623 or via marine radio VHF-FM CH 13/16 for bridge openings or advance notice. Mariners are advised to plan their transits accordingly.

The Amtrak RR bridge across Shaw Cove (in New London) at mile 0.0 has suffered a serious mechanical failure. Replacement parts are being fabricated; estimated for bridge to return to normal operation is early December. Until then the bridge will operate on a limited opening schedule which will be broadcast over marine frequency, channel 13 VHF-FM. Mariners are warned not to proceed through the bridge until the swing span is completely open, tugs have cleared the channel and the draw operator has given the all clear to proceed.

Volvo Ocean Race Chesapeake:
The Big Boats are coming to town. Leg 5 will start in Rio on April 2, 2006 and the finish in Baltimore is expected around April 17. The list of festivities goes on and on.
A new event in this year’s race will be the “In-harbor” race from Baltimore to Annapolis.
Annapolis is getting geared up in many ways, one of which is a new dredging project. Mariners are advised that Langenfelder Marine Corp bucket Dredge DB-2400 will conducting dredging operations in the Annapolis Harbor Main Channel between Severn River Channel LB 9 and the Annapolis City Dock until 15 Jan 2006. The dredge can be contacted on VHF FM channels 13 and 16. Mariners are requested to stay clear of the dredge, floating and submerged pipelines, buoys and wires. Mariners are requested to exercise extreme caution and no wake when approaching, passing and leaving a dredge operation location and to strictly comply with the Inland Rules of the Road.
The Coast Guard is also asking for comments:

Special Local Regulations for Marine Events; Chesapeake Bay

AGENCY: Coast Guard, DHS.

ACTION: Notice of proposed rulemaking.

SUMMARY: The Coast Guard proposes to establish special local regulations during the "Volvo Ocean Race 2005-2006", sailboat races to be held on the waters of the Chesapeake Bay in the vicinity east of Gibson Island, Maryland and near the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial (Chesapeake Bay) Bridge near Annapolis, Maryland. These special local regulations are necessary to provide for the safety of life on navigable waters during the event. This action is intended to restrict vessel traffic in segments of the Chesapeake Bay during the sailboat races.

DATES: Comments and related material must reach the Coast Guard on or before 15 February 2006.

ADDRESSES: You may mail comments and related material to Commander (oax), Fifth Coast Guard District, 431 Crawford Street, Portsmouth, Virginia 23704-5004, hand-deliver them to Room 119 at the same address between 9 a.m. and 2p.m., Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays, or fax them to (757) 398-6203. The Auxiliary and Recreational Boating Safety Branch, Fifth Coast Guard District, maintains the public docket for this rulemaking. Comments and material received from the public, as well as documents indicated in this preamble as being available in the docket, will become part of this docket and will be available for inspection or copying at the above address between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. Ron Houck, Project Manager, Marine Information Specialist, U.S. Coast Guard Sector Baltimore, at (410) 576-2674.

Berkley Bridge, Norfolk, VA, Restrictions and Closure:
While this bridge is on the mostly commercial Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River in Norfolk and is not usually used by transients that would need an opening, it is significant to me that the four hour rush hour closure periods effectively have the bridge closed more than open.

Effective December 12, 2005, the Coast Guard is changing the regulations that govern the operation of the Berkley Bridge across the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River, at mile 0.4, in Norfolk, Virginia. The final rule will extend the morning and evening rush hour closure periods so that the morning rush hour period starts at 5 a.m. and ends at 9 a.m., and the evening rush hour starts at 3 p.m. and ends at 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays. The rule will also reduce the deep-draft commercial vessel requirement to 18 feet and the advance notice period to 6 hours. This change will relieve vehicular traffic congestion during the weekday rush hours while still providing for the reasonable needs of navigation.

Further, additional closures to facilitate electrical and mechanical repairs, have been scheduled allowing the drawbridge to remain closed-to-navigation each day, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., on three two-day closure periods: December 28 & 29, 2005; January 24 & 25, 2006; and February 21 & 22, 2006.

Comment: As a native of this area, I have been caught in rush hour traffic at the Berkley Bridge more often than I would like. It is very bad. I just hope this is not a precursor to further restrictions being placed on vessel traffic through the ICW bridges in the Norfolk area on the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River. Residents complain constantly about boats slowing down their commutes and the local news broadcasters frequently run stories about the selfish boaters who won’t take another route (Where? Around Cape Hatteras?) so they won’t hold up traffic on the Norfolk area bridges.

More ICW Shoaling in NC:
USCG 5th District LNM 49 reports that a US Army Corps of Engineers survey conducted on 29 Jul, 2005 indicates shoaling to a depth of 5.9 feet MLLW in the vicinity AICWW Mile 270.5 at Black Mud Channel. Mariners are cautioned not to transit this channel during low water and use extreme caution when transiting this area during other states of the tide.

A number of southbound vessels this season have observed this shoal fist hand and close up, and some have reported even less water.

This information is not to be used for navigation. Consult the latest charts and Local Notices to Mariners and use prudent seamanship. Any person or entity that uses this information in any way, as a condition of that use, agrees to waive and does waive any and all claims which may arise from that use.

Copyright 2004-2005 Tom Neale