Bridge collides with sailboat, captain to seek damages

by Keith T. Barber
Thursday, September 13, 2007

A collision between the Heide Trask drawbridge and a CSY-44 sailboat on Monday could result in a lawsuit brought by the boat’s owner against the North Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT).

Sterling Stevenson, a former newspaper publisher from Maryland, said he followed proper nautical procedure when sailing his 44-foot sailboat, Marijke IV, beneath the drawbridge Monday afternoon at approximately 2 p.m. Following behind the sailboat, Teacher’s Pet, Stevenson said he wasn’t aware the bridge had started its descent until he heard the sound of his 55-foot tall mast being crumpled.

Staff photo by Jeff Eng
Traffic was held up on Monday, Sept. 10, after the Heide Trask drawbridge began to close as the sailboat Marijku IV started to pass through, snapping the mast and snagging the rigging, which had to be cut to free the boat.
“When the bridge started (up), I gunned my motor to start my boat in motion, got behind Teacher’s Pet, and they let him go through,” Stevenson said. “They started closing the bridge 10 feet before I got to the bridge.”

John Bates, a longtime Wrightsville Beach resident, concurred with Stevenson’s account of the incident. Bates, watching traffic at the bridge, said he was sitting in his car just beyond the barricade on the west side of the bridge when the bridge lowered onto the mast of Marijke IV.

“I’ve been watching the bridge since 1959. My take was he was so close to the bridge when the bridge tender was taking it down, she couldn’t see him,” Bates said.

Bridge operator Wanda Ramsey acknowledged the difficulty in spotting boats that idle on the west side of the channel.

“A lot of them stay on that (west) side, then they decide they’re going to go through, and you can’t see them,” Ramsey said.

Stevenson said it was incredible that the bridge operator didn’t see his boat before lowering the bridge.

Steve Alberts’s boat Clampdown, was positioned behind Marijke IV when the incident occurred. He corroborated Stevenson’s version of events.

“They didn’t see he was even there. That was what concerned me. They didn’t stop,” Alberts said.

Stevenson said he wasn’t sure of the distance between his boat and Teacher’s Pet but he should have been clearly visible to Ramsey.

“She didn’t see me, period. The state is wrong, and they’ve got to fix my boat,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson said Ramsey didn’t sound the warning 
Staff photo by Joshua Curry George Bruton of Tow Boat U.S. arrives to assist in getting the Marijku IV  to safe

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