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Politician Hits Rock Bottom (Panbo) - PassageMaker
Yacht campaigning along RI beaches hits rocks, politician blames NOAA
Joseph Trillo out campaigning by boat.

Joseph Trillo out campaigning by boat.

Yesterday was tough for Rhode Island independent gubernatorial candidate Joseph Trillo. To me it already seemed like a poor idea to use his 65-foot yacht to campaign along the state’s summer beaches, especially with the huge banners and his “very, very big sound equipment” playing patriotic music and asking for votes. But then came the navigation issues.

This U.S. Coast Guard Northeast Facebook entry seems to report the grounding incident clearly, and let’s note that they politely named the yacht, Lady M, but not the owner. Many of the commenters — some of whom were trying to enjoy Charlestown Breachway Beach during the hubbub — were not so kind.

Some were annoyed by Trillo's campaigning antics.

Some were annoyed by Trillo's campaigning antics.

I try to be very careful about jumping to judgemental conclusions when things go wrong for fellow boaters. But I did wonder how fast Lady M was going, given that the grounding apparently caused substantial leaking and that they were possibly in a spot that no boat that big and deep normally goes. And then I was taken aback when I read this excerpt from Trillo’s statement this morning, as reported in the Providence Journal, boldfacing my own:

While this was unexpected, thankfully everyone onboard was unharmed and in good spirits throughout the ordeal. This was a result of inaccurate NOAA charts which failed to indicate the location of a rock formation underneath the surface of the water; as was corroborated by officials on scene.”

The Journal’s next paragraph dryly notes that “The Coast Guard on Monday morning said it has not determined what caused the boat to run into the rock.” And I thought: Time to check the charts!

A look at the charts.

A look at the charts.

The Charlestown Breachway is quite distinctive and, along with the USCG helicopter photo, it was not hard to figure out about where Joe Trillo’s Lady M hit the rocks (though I welcome corrections). And he’s right (in a sense) that no specific rocks are charted (like they are further offshore on the other side of the Breachway). But, dang, if he wasn’t actually in the green area that drys out at low tide, he surely was inside the 6-foot contour, an area that this NOAA ENC vector chart defines as 0 to 5.9 feet deep.

Moreover, this chart display is not just Overscale — as indicated by Coastal Explorer at the bottom of the screen — it’s WAY overscale.

The NOAA RNC raster chart shows the overscaling better because the titles and numbers don’t change size with the zoom level.

The NOAA RNC raster chart shows the overscaling better because the titles and numbers don’t change size with the zoom level.

The NOAA RNC raster chart shows the overscaling better — one of the reasons I like them — because the titles and numbers don’t change size with the zoom level. This 1:4,000 scale view is essentially like holding a serious magnifying glass to a few square inches of a large 1:40,000 scale paper chart. Even if the NOAA cartographers actually had a lot of fine detail about that area, they did not have the resolution to show it. And, by the way, 1:40,000 is usually the highest resolution charting available along the U.S. Coast, with smaller area (larger scale) harbor charts reserved for especially complicated and well-trafficked spots.

A lot of boaters need to better understand the relationship of detail and chart scales, but I’d like to point out to Joe Trillo that this chart actually does seem to show rocks — or at least some dots of concern on the wet side of the shoreline — about where he hit rocks. And the screen below shows the NOAA chart at a scale it’s meant to be looked at, and thus also how little space the cartographers had to indicate the detail Trillo seems to think he was entitled to.

NOAA-RNC-raster-chart-where-Trillos-Lady-M-hit-rocks-at-1-20000-scale-cPanbo-800x499

So, yes, checking the charts got me a little worked up. Going aground is one thing; refusing to take responsibility and blaming innocent others is another. But maybe the voters of Rhode Island will think differently. Another claim Joseph Trillo made this morning was, “I will also be looking to work with NOAA to have these charts updated to ensure the safety of other boaters in the future.”

This story was originally posted on the Panbo website on July 9th, follow this link to participate in any discussion on this article.

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