Candy Giovan has been waiting for the day when a boat ends up in her parking lot at Villa Olga in Frenchtown on St. Thomas.
Finally, exasperated by the reckless boat traffic through Haulover Cut, which her property fronts, Giovan got permission from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources to install four No Wake Zone buoys in the narrow channel, which she did in May at her own expense.
“DPNR gave me the go-ahead, as long as I paid for it. Commissioner [Jean-Pierre] Oriol wanted to see it happen, but they didn’t have the funds for it, and a minor project like this was not going to get any kind of attention. Which I had no problem with, because I’m just waiting for the day that I end up with a boat in the parking lot,” Giovan said during a recent interview.
Howard Forbes Sr., director of enforcement for DPNR, said he started talks with Giovan in October 2020 about installing the buoys in the channel as a contribution to the community on behalf of DPNR.
“The discussion came about after several close calls with vessels entering the Haulover Cut at a high rate of speed. The Division of Environmental Enforcement and Coastal Zone Management met on the issue several times before a location was decided,” Forbes said via email. “In May … the buoys were installed with the permission of DPNR. These buoys will alert boaters to navigate at 6 mph while entering the harbor at a no-wake speed, making the area safer. This will also aide DPNR officers when issuing speeding citations due to notification buoys identifying speeding limits within the harbor of Charlotte Amalie,” he said.
The buoys cost Giovan about $6,000 including their professional installation with sand screws in sand patches in the channel, and they can be removed in the event of a hurricane, so they don’t become unmoored and lost, she said.
“I know everybody’s got bigger issues,” Giovan said of her willingness to ante up the money for the markers. “I don’t have a problem with the private sector picking up the slack, but I do not want to be chased down about it. … I did not want to take any credit for it, either. I just wanted to see it get done, and if that meant I had to pay for it, then that meant I had to pay for it because the potential danger is just obscene,” Giovan said, responding to speculation by some in the boating community about her permission to place the buoys.
“I’ve seen so many near-misses. We’ve had quite a bit of damage on our dock … and CYOA has seen dinghies flipping and lots of damage with big boats flying through this channel,” Giovan said.
“I’m just trying to do the right thing,” she said.
CYOA Yacht Charters, at the Frenchtown Harbor Marina just north of Villa Olga, was happy to see the No Wake Zone markers installed, said Capt. Kyle Koopmans, whose job includes ensuring the company’s customers are competent to set sail.
“We’re very happy she put those in,” said Koopmans. “We would love to have people slow down and obey the laws,” he said. “There’s been some very close calls.”
“Over the holiday weekend [in May], it was pretty bad,” said Koopmans.
Like Giovan, Koopmans said CYOA has suffered damage to its boats and docks from excessive wake and has resorted to videotaping offenders, using air horns to alert them to slow down, and calling out scofflaws on the VHF Channel 16 that is used to alert mariners to urgent safety issues. “I have no problem doing that,” said Koopmans.
“I do know that as a mariner, you are responsible for any wake your boat creates,” said Koopmans.
The damage can be substantial.
“We’ve had to rebuild the end of our dock three times in the last six years. It’s consistent damage. And this is a dock that’s been here 125 years – since before the turn of the last century, so they can’t say, ‘Oh, someone put something in,’” said Giovan, whose family has owned the historic property since 1967.
“That’s from people going by and kicking up a six-foot wake and then boats flipping and boats slamming into the dock,” she said. All three times the offenders were located and made to pay for the damage, which ranged from $1,000 to $2,500, she said.
At about 12 feet deep, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Haulover Cut between Hassel Island and St. Thomas is remarkably busy, providing boats of all sizes, and even seaplanes, access to St. Thomas Harbor from both the East and West Gregerie channels.
The channel was cut in 1861 to improve the water circulation and relieve congestion in St. Thomas Harbor, according to the National Park Service, which owns 95 percent of Hassel Island, which before the alteration was a peninsula of St. Thomas.
On top of the usual traffic – according to Giovan this includes numerous tourist excursion boats, commuter traffic on dinghies, the Tortola ferry six times a day, Seaborne Airlines about six times a day, and at least a dozen charter boats a day – people also use the channel to swim, kayak or stand-up paddleboard to Hassel Island.
“Everybody is using this channel. Everybody,” said Giovan, especially as the St. Thomas charter boat industry has taken off during the COVID-19 pandemic.
DPNR is responsible for patrolling the waters and has recently made some purchases that should help with its mission.
“We have a 34-foot boat and a 17-foot boat in each district for our enforcement officers,” said DPNR’s Oriol, via email. “The 17-foot vessels are used to do the harbor patrols in Charlotte Amalie and Christiansted, while the larger boats are used for distance patrols. We have also purchased three wave runners which will allow for us to provide rapid response when deploying from a shoreline. We anticipate their arrival in the late summer,” he said.
Meanwhile, Giovan hopes the new No Wake Zone buoys will help slow traffic.
“I’d be thrilled if 20 percent of the boats noticed them and slowed down, that would make a big difference. We’ll see if that happens,” Giovan said.
“We all have to get along. We all have the same resources to share. It’s just a matter of time before someone gets hurt” if boaters don’t heed the law, Koopmans said.