NEWBURYPORT — Midway through the summer boating season, it's been relatively smooth sailing out on local waters.
In contrast to the past couple of years when seasons were marked by the drowning of a 20-year-old Lynn woman at the mouth of the Merrimack River at Plum Island and the disappearance of captain Seth Coellner after his boat crashed into the jetties, local water patrollers say this year thus far has been devoid of real tragedy.
But it hasn't been without its occasional mishap.
On Saturday, a fun day of sailing turned sour for one family when they strayed from the channel and ended up capsizing at Badgers Rock off Salisbury.
Harbormaster Paul Hogg's office received a distress call about 3:30 p.m. Saturday from five adults aboard a 28-foot sailboat who reported they were unable to dislodge themselves from the rocky outcropping.
Assistant harbormaster Lance Thokel along with a crew from the U.S. Coast Guard Merrimack River Station responded to the scene. The adults were transported safely from their damaged boat with no injuries reported, Hogg said.
"They ended up hitting the rocks," Hogg said. "They came out of the channel and didn't come around the navigational buoy like they were supposed to. I don't know if they just didn't know or didn't see it."
Towboat US owner and operator Michael Goodridge reported the owners of the sailboat retrieved their vessel some time later, when the tides came in, and the sailboat was in good enough condition that they were able to guide it into port without assistance.
Goodridge said it seems that every year a handful of boaters fall victim to some of the perils in the pass, and this year has been no exception.
"We've been pretty busy this year," he said. "A lot of typical work right now — nothing real big, but we've had a couple of sinkings."
Goodridge was called to the scene three weeks ago when a 17-foot Boston Whaler capsized in the evening amid the notoriously rough breakers at the mouth of the Merrimack River. The three people aboard were plucked from the water and rescued by a party boat that happened to be fishing in the vicinity, but the task of retrieving the vessel fell to Goodridge and his crew.
"They were in choppy water, and they drove over the top of a wave and plunged down into the next one in front of them; and it just swamped them," he said.
Another recent incident may not have been caused by rough waters, but it was equally painful for the boat owners who saw their 37-footer sink in about 20 feet of water at Windward Yacht Yard in Newburyport a couple of weeks ago. The sunken boat was discovered the day after the owners had been out on the water. Goodridge said it appeared the stuffing box gave out.
"They were actually on it the day before; and they went home, and we called them the next morning and said your boat's on the bottom," Goodridge said. "It totally sank."
With plenty of boating days still ahead, Goodridge said the westerly winds are conspiring to keep things calm on the waters.
Goodridge said not only is the weather favorable, but the busy river scene provides a safety net for those who happen upon one of the sandbars or shallow spots that prove challenging for boaters unfamiliar to the area.
"This time of year, the water's warm, and there's lots of people to help you," Goodridge said. "If you're going to have a problem, this is the time of year to have it.
"You don't want to have problems like that in April or November, because there's nobody around. Ninety percent of the real emergency rescues are made by other boaters."