Sunday, October 20, 2013

Game Warden Files--Boat Chases

The Clam Wars of the Great South Bay had been fought from boats and we employed boats in a lot of our work also.  We make some great partnerships with the Hempstead Bay Constables and spent many nights in the upper reaches of Jamaica Bay.  We also teamed with the highly skilled operators with the US Park Police Marine Unit working the large expanse of the bay that was under federal control.  They knew all the little channels of the bay better than any of us did and that make the work much easier. The other player was the Nassau County Marine Police who would occasionally come into the very end of the bay which was in the Town of Hempstead, Nassau County.  We had a pretty good team and put a cramp on the clamming; but some still tried it--and some of them still got away.

One night I got a call from the Nassau County Marine Police.  They had just come into the area, had a boat under surveillance and had one of their boats being trailered to a nearby launch.  Lt. Molinelli and I headed over from Staten Island hooked up with them and while I got in the boat with the two county officers, Lt. Mollinelli worked his way to an observation point.

We came quickly around a small peninsula approached the clammers and caught them totally by surprise. One of them went to start the engine and I could hear sound of a dying battery trying to start a badly tuned engine.  This was going to be a triumphant night!  Then I heard the county's boat throttle back, and the unmistakable sound of an engine failing--badly--like a piston through the side of the block.  I was on the bow of the now-dying police boat headed directly at the violators' boat and ready to board it when suddenly the previously dead engine on it sputtered and came to life.  Though it was coughing and sputtering, the violator's boat pulled away just out of my reach--or ability to jump into it.  It disappeared into the night not to be seen again...and we paddled into shore.  Not a happy night.

Though there was a good deal of adrenaline generated by that, it was nothing compared to a night working with the Hempstead Bay Constables.  We'd been getting complaints almost every night and had two boats and crews staged in the area of Head of Bay, just south of Kennedy Airport.  When the call came in, we headed to the location.  The plan was to keep hitting them with spotlights, effectively killing their night vision and force them to shore where other units would locate them.  It was a sold plan since they were clamming in an area with a very narrow outlet at low tide and we thought we could keep them blinded long enough.  The plan worked as well as it could have, except they had more determination than we ever expected.  They tossed all their equipment, clam rakes and baskets overboard forcing us to maneuver around them and ultimately got out of our lights.  They then acquired enough vision to find the channel out of there and headed west to open water.  I had the faster boat, but within a couple miles had lost any sight of them.

Though we only caught a few of the boat diggers, the two close calls they had with us pretty well shut them down.  I think we only had one other incident where one of our guys just lucked into a guy heading out with clamming equipment in a boat.  He called me and we waited him out, catching him as he loaded is truck.  Not nearly as exciting as chasing down a boat; but a good catch.    

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