“Captain Dummy is worried,” he jokes when the man at the wheel suddenly notices that his Bimini is too big, engages the engine and tries to break off. “He’s going to go back to the bridge! Oh my God!”
The footage he posts on Instagram along with his scathing comments (the best of the bad deserve the title “Captain Jackass”) made Stevens a celebrity in Gloucester. For what he documents, the precarious crossing of the Blynman Canal and under the Blynman Bridge – known locally as “The Cut” and “The Cut Bridge” – is a time-honored maritime curiosity that has plagued boaters for almost 400 years Onlookers will be entertained in America’s oldest port city.
“So many little things come together in this one place that there can be big problems when you don’t know what you are doing and sometimes even when you do,” said Mike Mann, the captain of the 70-foot charter fishery Boot Lady Sea, who drives the cut almost every day. “It’s like the central conversion point for boating idiocy.”
Dug up in 1643 under the leadership of the Reverend Richard Blynman, a Welsh Puritan, “the cut” connected the port of Gloucester with the Annisquam River and spared fishing boats from the long journey around Cape Ann to Ipswich Bay. She still serves that purpose for the Gloucester fleet, but nowadays most of the traffic is recreational boaters whose frequent visits make the drawbridge one of the busiest on the east coast up / 10 minute down cycle.
And it is the recreational boaters who do not need a license or have taken a boating course in Massachusetts who often get into great trouble on this deceptively complex passage, usually under the pressure of a crowd of onlookers. The cut bridge is on the busy riverside boulevard, just below the famous Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial, and of course when the bridge is high people will gather along the railing to watch the boats pass.
Below, the trickiest obstacle is the raging current, which can often create standing waves under the bridge, especially during an astronomical tide that can reach 6 or 7 knots. In many situations, regulars say the key is to shoot it through the waves, but the nerves often make people do the opposite.
A Gloucesterman who didn’t want his name in the papers because he’s still trying to suppress it, threw him into the waves a few years ago on Memorial Day when his wife yelled at him to slow down. Unfortunately he was listening.
“The moment I pulled back the wave came over the bow and flooded the whole boat up to my waist,” he said. He could limp the boat through the cut and around the corner to a beach while his wife and children jumped overboard and swam to the shore. You are no longer married.
In addition to the waves, many boaters cannot foresee the refraction caused by the wake of the boats in front of them. Man said if the Lady Sea passes he will turn on the radio to tell the boats behind him to wait a minute or two for the water to calm down. Few listen, however, and it is not uncommon for boats to be hurled against the side of the bridge by the turbulence; Mann saw boats tip over behind him three times.
Then the question arises of who has right of way when the bridge is opened. With many river crossings, this goes to the person who is pushing the stern by the current. But at the cut bridge the boats always have right of way on the Annisquam because it is so narrow and can easily be clogged with boats waiting for the bridge to open. There are signs in the harbor telling boats to give in, but they are often ignored, leading to situations where two boats squeeze past each other through an opening that barely fits into one.
And finally, there’s the sheer bad luck that seems to happen to the people who go through the cut. An incredible number of engines seem to choose this point to stop working. Last August, Stevens recorded a harrowing event when a boat lost power and slammed backwards against the closed bridge as the captain tried desperately to catch his anchor.
Most of the incidents at the bridge are minor, according to Gloucester Harbourmaster TJ Ciarametaro, and can be attributed to inexperience and poor preparation; That’s spark for a bridge opening when you don’t really need it.
“What I would like to emphasize the most is: you don’t always have to go through it,” said Ciaremataro. “Just because the bridge is up and it’s your turn doesn’t mean you have to go. If you are in a small boat and you are behind three huge tuna boats, you will probably have to wait a bit for the water to calm down. “
And now, he admits, there is a new motivation to be smart at the Cut Bridge: not wanting to land on Stevens’ Instagram page @cutbridgecrazziness and being exposed to one of his swear words filled with swear words.
The goal, Stevens insists, is comedy. But therein is the opportunity to ponder the oddly evil question, “Why is it so satisfying to see boat stupidity?” he says.
Because he is certainly not alone in this genre of schadenfreude. There are several YouTube channels documenting boats getting into trouble in Miami’s infamous Haulover Inlet. And The Qualified Captain, an Instagram page that is a clearinghouse for “what not to do on a boat,” has nearly 750,000 followers.
“There’s just something to it,” says Stevens after yelling at two cigarette boats that violated the right of way and came in from the harbor shortly after the bridge was opened. “Usually it’s not a devastating blow. It’s not a devastating loss. It’s just stupidity. And stupidity on a boat is amusing. “
Billy Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.