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The Coast Guard Auxiliary’s show drew a crowd that our City Council, or for that matter any Broadway show other than “Hamilton,” could only dream of.

It was standing room only at the Auxiliary’s presentation Wednesday morning at Rose Hall in the library, for an exposition of “Post-Irma Conditions on the Marco Waterways.” The auditorium was filled to easily the 240-person rated capacity, with another 50 late arrivals turned away.

As an island community, Marco hosts many avid boaters, eager to find out what has changed in the aftermath of a major hurricane slamming ashore directly over our shores. Presenters Joe Riccio and Al Rapp laid out a number of specific changes to local channels, sandbars and “atons,” or aids to navigation, but also transmitted a general, overall warning – look out.

Owners of large vessels were advised to try channels first in smaller craft, and not to assume that areas that were previously navigable can still be transited safely.

Riccio and Rapp divided up the local waters between them, with Riccio going first. After a quick recap of Hurricane Irma, he dealt with conditions on the northern side of the island. One spot that came in for special mention was the entrance to Collier Creek off of Capri Pass, where strong currents, shallow water and a no-wake zone have long made for a difficult passage. At the Villa de Marco condos right at the mouth of the inlet, not only the docks, but the seawall and the entire point of land have vanished, swept away by Irma’s waves and wind.

“Don’t hug the point,” cautioned Riccio, saying the transit is “very hard, except at slack water.” The debris, he said, is “there somewhere,” urging extreme caution, and warning of shoaling on the Hideaway Beach side of the channel. Some temporary buoys have been placed to indicate the shoals. The slow speed, or “idle speed – no wake” sign adjacent to green marker number 11 is also missing as boats approach from the Gulf through Capri Pass, he said.

Heading to Goodland, a red marker – number 16, or maybe 14 – in Big Marco River is missing, and Rapp reminded his audience that, in general, boaters should swing wide through turns, as the deep water follows the outside of bends, while sandbars form on the inside of the curves. Where markers are missing, he said, they do not know whether the piling to which it was attached is gone, or still presenting an underwater hazard. Some atons, including number 12 between Goodland and Coon Key Light, have lost one the sign facing one way but still have the other. Others had all the paint and markings stripped off by the storm.

Caxambas Pass, at the southern tip of Marco, had already seen significant shoaling before Irma, and it has become worse since, said Rapp. The two outer entrance atons are missing. The shoal between Marco Island and Dickman Island has migrated landward, requiring local knowledge and operator vigilance.

The Cape Romano dome home, an iconic local landmark with igloo-like structures, lost one of its domes, which now lurks beneath the water next to the still remaining structures, in a spot where area fishermen and boaters in general love to come in close.

What Rapp called the “picket fence,” the long string of closely spaced markers guiding mariners from Caxambas around Horr’s Island (or in real estate parlance, Key Marco), has the “pole only at water surface” for marker number 15, and the waters between Cape Romano and Coon Key Light present significant hazards, he said, and scouting is suggested.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary officers did not know when any of the missing atons would be replaced, reporting only that they are “on the list.”

In response to input from the audience, the officers said they would put the visuals from their presentation on the Auxiliary website, although they did not know exactly when. They are also considering repeating the presentation when more “snowbirds” have cruised back to their Marco Island winter docks.

For more information, and a full range of safe boating and area-specific boating classes, call 239-384-7416, send email to cgauxcourses@gmail.com, or go online to USCGAuxMarco.org.

 

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