Overloaded boat sinks at Pottahawk party

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The annual Pottahawk boat party on Sunday was smaller and calmer this year but police still had to deal with incidents that included a capsized boat, impaired driver and barbecue-burned partyer.

Norfolk OPP Const. Ed Sanchuk said the boat sank around noon.

“People wonder why the police have to be out here but that’s one of the reasons why. There were five people on that boat.”

Officers from the OPP Marine Unit assisted the operator and captain to safely but noted the boat was heavily overloaded, with water lapping at the gunwales, and included a large cooler strapped to the front of the vessel.

Sanchuk said a 46-year-old operator from Port Colborne has been charged in the incident.

Also early in the day, a woman was burned by a barbecue and at least one impaired boater was arrested.

“We’re not here to ruin people’s fun but people seem to think nothing will happen to them because they’re out on the water. Out here, seconds can make the difference between life and death so we’re asking everyone to be responsible – especially if you’re carrying people in your boat.”


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Sometimes known as the Pottahawk Pissup, the event, which is always on the second Sunday in July, tends to feature a lot of boats, bikinis and booze on the remote Pottahawk Point off of Port Rowan or Turkey Point in Lake Erie.

Some years there have been 10,000 people and more than 2,000 boats at the event where some boaters line up their vessels so that people can climb across a line of boats.

Many others like to stand around and socialize in the waist deep water.

But this year, said Sanchuk, high water meant the usual standing area wasn’t as comfortable as normal and there was little shoreline available.

Some boaters reported being unable to get their boats out of boathouses due to the high water.

Despite the perfect weather, Sanchuk estimated there only were about 500 boats at the event by mid-afternoon.

He said the high police presence was there to watch for impaired operators, check that boats were carrying proper safety equipment and respond to emergencies.

Norfolk OPP officers arrested at least one impaired boat operator at the annual Pottahawk event Sunday.

The OPP Marine Unit received calls through the 911 system and could respond to zone areas that were marked out along the shore.

Sanchuk said boaters should understand that “impaired is impaired, whether you’re on land or water”.

He added that alcohol sometimes causes Pottahawk partyers to do foolish things like, if stranded at the island, try to swim back to shore – a distance of at least five kilometres.

At the Port Rowan marina, Katherine Atkins and her husband Stan were preparing to launch Wine Goddess Too but planned to steer clear of Pottahawk.

“We don’t like Pottahawk,” said Katherine Atkins, of Hamilton.

“We’re going somewhere quiet to float.”

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