2005-07-01 / Front Page

Boat In Distress Triggers Beach Evacuation

The red and white Gateway Tow vessel, a familiar sight to local boaters, encountered trouble on the water Wednesday as it was towing a houseboat through East Rockaway Inlet.The red and white Gateway Tow vessel, a familiar sight to local boaters, encountered trouble on the water Wednesday as it was towing a houseboat through East Rockaway Inlet. Police ordered the evacuation of a stretch of beach in Far Rockaway Wednesday when a local towboat pulling a houseboat through the torrential East Rockaway Inlet suffered a crack in its fuel tank.

The Gateway Tow vessel began having trouble at about 11:15 a.m. and crewmembers quickly set the boat’s anchor to keep it, and the occupied 45x16-foot houseboat tethered behind it, from running aground in the narrow passage.

Lifeguard holds a piece of his sweater over his face as the strong odor of diesel fuel from the towboat reached the peninsula not far from the Atlantic Beach Bridge.Lifeguard holds a piece of his sweater over his face as the strong odor of diesel fuel from the towboat reached the peninsula not far from the Atlantic Beach Bridge. The towboat, affiliated with TowBoat US, is operated out of Broad Channel and is owned by Carole Dady. Her husband, John is the vessel’s captain and, through the years, has assisted thousands of boats experiencing all sorts of troubles in the Jamaica Bay area.

Carole told The Wave that her boat’s towing post was ripped out because of the stress put on it by a combination of wind, current and the load of the houseboat. The tow’s fuel tank suffered a crack and diesel fuel began to leak as the post broke free, she said.

The fuel odor was so strong that an NYPD Aviation Unit officer reported that he could smell it in the cockpit of a police helicopter hovering 500 feet above the scene. That officer was heard ordering central dispatch, via radio, to clear the beaches around the O’Donohue Park area to prevent swimmers from coming in contact with the fuel.

Lifeguards and Parks Enforcement Patrol Officers assisted in getting beachgoers, of which there was just a handful, to leave the immediate area. One unlucky guard, whose chair was in the draft of the distressed boat, used part of his sweatshirt to shield his face from the fumes.

While television reports said 125 gallons of fuel went into the water in the incident, Carole says that figure was greatly exaggerated. The 35-foot tow’s fuel capacity is 125 gallons, and it burns about 6 gallons per hour.

The tow left Broad Channel at about 3 a.m. Wednesday – when weather conditions seemed favorable – and traveled to Freeport to pick up the Port Washington-bound houseboat, Carole said. It had burned about 50 gallons by the time it started having trouble, and the captain was able to contain almost all of the diesel in the boats bilge, she said.

Carole said representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency performed an inspection of the tow, which, along with the houseboat, was helped to safe harbor in the Atlantic Beach area. The tow will undergo repair and will continue its journey with the houseboat when the weather again seems favorable.

No one was injured in the incident, sources said.

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