By JOHN HOWELL
“Coming up,” Warwick Police Officer Andrew Chretien said above the hum of the twin outboards. The engines went from a purr to a roar as police marine vessels cleared …
By JOHN HOWELL
“Coming up,” Warwick Police Officer Andrew Chretien said above the hum of the twin outboards. The engines went from a purr to a roar as police marine vessels cleared the no wake buoy to Warwick Cove and sent foam racing to the shores of the Warwick Country Club. Ahead, similarly racing for Warwick Neck and Prudence Island beyond was a flotilla of craft, but mostly Jet Skis. The destination was assumed to be Potter’s Cove on Prudence Island.
It wasn’t a bad guess, as an estimated 1,000 watercraft assembled at the cove in 2022 and the word was out that as many vessels and possibly twice the number of people would join for the 2023 version of Aquapalooza on Saturday. Aquapalooza is a giant floating party. Powerboats from 50 foot cabin cruisers outfitted with speaker systems worthy of a concert hall to runabouts with open decks tie up to form a floating dock. Some of these “rafts” are made up of a dozen boats, others number 50 or more. People gathered on the sterns of their boats to wave to friends, dive into the water, dance to the beat of music, tend to barbecues and look for friends among circulating kayaks, inflatables and Jet Skis, mostly Jet Skis.
It’s a summertime party, but Aquapalooza has been a cocktail for disaster.
This year law enforcement, the Coast Guard, DEM, Kent Count Regional Prevention Coalition and others acted to get out in front of the unsanctioned party conducting a press conference last Wednesday at the Aspray Boat House in Pawtuxet. Foremost was the message that boating under the influence is illegal and is a known contributing factor in 18 percent of boating deaths in 2020 according to the US Coast Guard.
Captain Robert Hart, marine unit commander for Warwick Police, observed that since 2020 the Marine Unit has conduced more than 400 patrols and issued scores of violations for lack of critical safety equipment and boating under the influence, reckless boating as well as conducting search and rescues. Kathy Sullivan, director of the prevention coalition talked of the danger of mixing alcohol with the effects of the sun, wind and a rolling vessel on judgement and ability to operate a boat. She said a boat operator with a blood alcohol concentration above .10 percent is estimated to be more than ten times likely to die in a boating accident than one with no blood alcohol concentration.
“Our goal today is safety on the water for all,” she said in announcing the coalition’s partnership with MADD and a $4,000 grant for additional Warwick Police marine patrols.
But how to control the thousands who would be on the Bay Saturday?
The Better Bay Alliance website offering a calendar of water events listed Aquapalooza along with the Newport Jazz Festival and a J-24 sailboat regatta as known activities Saturday. With good weather forecast most of the day, untold numbers of pleasure boaters and fishermen would also be on the water. What was ominous was the prospect of line of severe thunder storms rolling in during the late afternoon. Would many at Aquapalooza head for home simultaneously and would they be in any condition to handle heavy rain, high winds and rough seas?
DEM spokesman Michael Healey believes the unidentified people behind Aquapalooza, which is promoted on social media and has become an institution, is purposely scheduled to coincide with the jazz festival so that law enforcement agencies are spread thin and so they might escape costs associated with policing the event. Throughout the day DEM served as a source for what was happening on the waters.
The Aquapalooza boaters started gathering Friday afternoon to pick desired cove anchorages and by mid Saturday morning the music was blaring, people were beating the heat in a variety of inflatables from giant tubes to swans and a couple of cows. At the mouth of the cove Jet Skis swarmed circling each other to throw spray and jump wakes.
Officer Chretien steered for Carnegie Marina in Portsmouth for an 11 a.m. briefing with the Coast Guard, Providence Police, Middletown Police and Fire, State Police and the DEM. Others assigned to the patrol, Officers Matthew Caradimos and Michael Harris scanned the shoreline for the marina. Officer Zachary Black was to join the crew later.
Chip Piermont, marina harbormaster was prepared. He assisted as craft with docking and had filled the office refrigerator with bottled water which was passed around.
Like Healey, Piermont who has been harbormaster for eight to ten years, had no idea who is accountable for organizing Aquapalooza. He said that Marine Max ran the event until it grew unmanageable.
As law enforcement gathered, a Middletown rescue arrived. Soon after Middletown Fire led a young woman, her hands crossed against her chest up the dock. Those at the scene reported she had been bleeding and taken off a boat to be rushed ashore. She was placed on a stretcher and wheeled into the rescue.
At Potter’s Cove, law enforcement boats were easily identifiable by flashing blue lights. Chretien maneuvered the craft between the rafted boats with Caradimos, Harris and two Coast Guard seamen keeping watch for swimmers and anchor lines that could foul the outboard engines. They checked out reports of a beached Jet Ski that had hit a boat. People were around the Jet Ski, but when there we no waves for support, they moved out. From the radio exchange, it was apparent another agency had the registration numbers of the vessels and the matter was under control.
While this reporter was aboard, Warwick Marine made no checks or rescue assistance while patrolling the cove. On a run back to Warwick Cove, two Jet Skis were stopped. After a cumbersome 20 minutes of taking down identification information and registrations one was arrested for failing to have a Boater Safety Card and told he could not operate the Jet Ski. The other operator, who owned both Jet Skis was issued a violation. The pair was told to return to harbor and that they would be notified by mail. Had they been suspected of being under the influence of alcohol, they would have been taken to the Portsmouth marine for a breathalyzer test.
Overall, Healey reported Sunday that there were no serious injuries and thankfully the line of storms didn’t pass through the region until much later.
In his report Caradimos said the unit responded to a vessel hailing on the distress channel for someone in the water, possibly drowning at 2 p.m. This person was located and rescued out of the water. The man was identified and then became disorderly. He was taken into custody for one count Disorderly Conduct and one Count Resisting Legal or Illegal Arrest.
Then at 4 p.m. the unit was dispatched to check on a possible Boating under the Influence for a vessel under tow. The man was cooperative and told police he was trying to help a friend and was having difficulty maneuvering in tight quarters. Police determined it was not a BUI.
A half hour later the unit responded to a distress call of a sinking Jet Ski with three people aboard. They found two males and a female in the water. One of the men was identified a Good Samaritan from the vessel that made the call
At approximately 4:30 p.m., WPD 301 heard a distress call hailing on Ch-16 of a sinking Jet Ski in the area of Potter Cove with three persons in the water (PIW). WPD crew members quickly identified the area in which the Jet Ski was sinking and responded. WPD was first on scene and observed two females and two males in the water around the Jet Ski, partially under water. One male was identified to be a Good Samaritan from the vessel hailing the distress and was attempting to keep all PIW afloat. WPD obverted the male who was later identified and found to be the operator of the Jet Ski starting to go under water and appeared to be losing consciousness. Members quickly were able to save the vessel and throw a life ring to the subject who then was able to hold on and taken aboard the unit.
According to the report , the two women boarded a responding fire boat and the operator of the Jet Ski was determined to be BUI and was transported to Carnegie Marina.
But that wasn’t the end of the day for the Warwick Marine unit. At about 6 p.m. crew members spotted an overturned Jet Ski in Potter Cove with three people in the water, one being a woman without a lifejacket. The crew rescued the woman who explained her boat ride had left and she was attempting to get a ride to Somerset, Mass.
In the last run of the Aquapalooza detail the Warwick unit gave her a safe ride to the Oakland Beach.