From the Pilothouse BY PETER SWANSON
Some of you may be aware that I moonlight for another magazine. I write an online blog for our sister publication Soundings. The name of the
blog is Loose Cannon, and as the name
suggests, it’s meant to be provocative.
Last summer, we were boarded by
the U.S. Coast Guard in Charleston
and, yes, we passed inspection. There
were two coasties, a Customs and
Border Patrol officer, a DEA agent, a
South Carolina marine patrol officer, a
Charleston police officer and a German
shepherd. The Coast Guard officer
was so laden with weaponry and gear,
she could barely squeeze down the
companionway. Like your momma, she
wore combat boots.
While the search was conducted
professionally enough, I wrote two
successive blogs that questioned the
policy itself. Since a Supreme Court
ruling in 1983, the Coast Guard’s right to
board is unquestioned, but that doesn’t
mean the agency should exercise that
right regarding recreational vessels.
That was my opinion, anyway.
Between Coast Guard boardings and
those of local law enforcment agencies,
some American waterways have
become downright unpleasant to be on.
Parts of Florida and the lower Hudson
River come to mind. Chicago, too.
Reader response was through the
roof. More than a hundred boaters
commented, most of them agreeing
with me (something I’m not used to).
In an age when the government is
tracking our phone calls and emails
and watching us from surveillance
cameras, we hold fast to the quaint
notion that boating is about being left
alone, about freedom.
One of the commenters was a guy
named Pete Dautel, a retired Coast
Guard officer. Dautel wrote a long
and thoughtful response. With more
than a thousand boardings during his
career, he had a unique perspective and
a surprisingly objective one. I wanted
PassageMaker to tackle the boarding issue,
but because I had so loudly exposed my
bias, I didn’t think I should be the writer.
So I got in touch with Dautel, who
happens to hail from my old stomping
grounds around Buzzards Bay.
All I asked was that at some point
in the article Dautel give his opinion
on whether the policy of randomly
boarding pleasure craft was a sufficient
deterrent to crime and unsafe practices
to justify its intrusiveness. Read
Boarding Blues on Page 72 to see what
Also, check out a new feature intended
to amuse and amaze. It’s called Cocktail
Cruisers. They are boat designs
sketched using unconventional media
and often at venues where liquor is
served. Why? Because designing boats
is an interactive process between the
builder and customer. It is social in
nature, creating friends (and sometimes
enemies) for life. Drinks and dinner
are often part of the process, and if
anybody at the table happens to have a
pen … well … stuff happens.
See Steve Seaton’s beautiful design on
Page 82. She was drawn on a tablecloth!
The boat below, also by Seaton, was
sketched on the back of an envelope and
colored with a highlighter.
It’s About Freedom
Don’t wear a towel on your head. The
stereotype portrayed in this image of
an actual Coast Guard training exercise
suggests that thwarting terrorism may have
supplanted contraband interdiction as a
secondary purpose of a “safety” inspection.