By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
A channel marker that is supposed to safely guide boaters through a popular waterway at the shore has instead become a navigational hazard, leaving some boats damaged or wrecked after hitting it.
The marker is located in the Intracoastal Waterway between Avalon and Stone Harbor near a popular fishing area known both as Paddy’s Hole and Paddy’s Thorofare. It sits in a narrow channel dubbed the “football field” by local boaters.
Sean McNulty, an owner of Carefree Boat Club of South Jersey, said the channel marker was apparently damaged during coastal storms over Mother’s Day weekend and is now partly submerged.
“It’s broken in half. Sometimes, it’s submerged. Sometimes, it’s out of the water,” he said in an interview Monday.
McNulty said he knows of several boats that have hit the marker and were either damaged or destroyed. He said at least one boater has been injured. McNulty’s family boat out of Sea Isle City was one of the first to collide with the marker. He said he is aware of at least four other Sea Isle-based boats that have also struck it.
Social media postings describe other boats hitting the sunken marker. One Sea Isle boater, J.P. Lachman, wrote on a Facebook forum that his pontoon boat was destroyed after a collision. Lachman said he had 13 people on board at the time, but fortunately no one was injured.
Lachman called the submerged marker “a serious hazard.” In a follow-up post on Facebook, he said he spoke with the U.S. Coast Guard and was told that an underwater specialty team was supposed to attach a second red buoy to the marker to make it easier for boaters to see. He also said the hope is that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will follow up to remove the sunken marker at some point.
Steve Rochette, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers, a federal agency involved with dredging projects in the Jersey Shore’s waterways, deferred to the Coast Guard for comment about the channel marker. Coast Guard officials could not be reached for comment Monday.
In the meantime, the sunken marker is hurting business at the shore because boaters are reluctant to travel along the Intracoastal Waterway out of fear they will hit the sunken channel marker, McNulty said.
“I know there’s a lot of Sea Isle boaters who are not going on that run,” he said.
He noted that waterfront restaurants and other businesses in Sea Isle, Ocean City and other shore towns are among those suffering.
“The location (of the marker) is in between Avalon and Stone Harbor, but it affects boaters from Cape May to Atlantic City if they are using the Intracoastal Waterway. It’s also right next to a very popular fishing spot known as Paddy’s Hole that many Sea Isle fishermen use,” he said.
McNulty’s business, Carefree Boat Club, has also been affected. The company includes members who pay to use the club’s fleet of boats that operate out of Avalon and the Ocean City market.
“We had one (Carefree) boat that clipped it. Then we made that route completely off limits for members, which is a huge problem because it takes much longer to go an alternate route,” McNulty said.
McNulty explained that the Carefree boat’s stainless steel propeller blade was damaged by the collision with the submerged marker.
“A chunk was taken out of it. Our member had no idea what happened,” he said.
McNulty’s brothers hit the channel marker with the family boat in June. Seven or eight other boats also struck the marker on the same weekend in June, McNulty said.
Other boats have hit the marker since then, including three or four this past weekend, he said.
McNulty and his company have called Coast Guard officials several times and had one in-person meeting with them to discuss the submerged marker.
“I just want to make as many people aware of this as I can,” he said of the danger of hitting the marker.
As an interim safety measure, the Coast Guard has attached a red buoy to make the marker more visible to boaters. A poly ball was also attached to the channel marker to improve visibility, but has since disappeared, McNulty said.
The section of the Intracoastal Waterway where the marker is located is dubbed the “football field” because it is a notoriously narrow and shallow channel where many boaters run aground, according to McNulty.
Now, with the submerged channel marker creating another hazard for boaters, the waterway has become even more treacherous, he said.