Liquid courage

It would be irresponsible for me to whitewash history and claim that there have never been injuries in bass tournaments caused by irresponsible or risk-taking boat driving. The incidents to date have been well-documented. My fear is that eventually someone is going to get seriously hurt or killed.

Yes, these guys are all experienced drivers and there may only be an incident once every tens of thousands of hours of seat time, but in many ways it’s similar to the airlines. On a per mile basis, air travel is probably safer than driving to work or walking your dog, but it’s the crashes that we remember. If this Alabama River tournament had been held 10 years ago, we’d have little or no photo or video evidence of it. The stories of anglers running Moccasin Gap would be rumors instead of demonstrable fact. Had Jared Miller or his Marshal been injured, the footage would’ve led the news on more than one station.

Had I been a rider at the Alabama River this past weekend and known my boater was going to run a rocky Disney flume ride, I would have bailed. I’d like to think that even if I’d been competing for $100K, I still wouldn’t have taken the risk. In fact I know it – the chances that I’d take my boat into that stuff are slightly lower than the odds that 2 Chainz will sing the national anthem at next February’s Classic.

You can’t blame the service crews. They’re de facto enablers of this sort of risk taking, but they’re doing their jobs and tending to run of the mill problems as well as the results of these nautical high wire acts. I’m also not going to blame the equipment. These types of problems long precede the introduction of the big 250s that are de rigueur today. Back in the days of 150s, and even before, there was a rumor that Ranger Boats had two boat graveyards behind their Arkansas factory – one for Roland Martin’s boats and one for all the others.

It’s not the size of the motor that causes the damage; it’s the size of the cojones. Arbitrary boundaries won’t change things much, either. If the tailraces had been off limits, pros would still be racing each other to spots, trying to jump into backwaters and running stumpy flats no deeper than your ankle at full throttle.

B.A.S.S. has made efforts to ensure that safety is a priority. At the 2007 Bassmaster Classic, B.A.S.S. Tournament Director Trip Weldon made the difficult decision to disqualify fan favorite Gerald Swindle for running too close to other boats. At other times, Weldon has elected to cancel a day of competition, even when the conditions were only bordering on unsafe. He knows that there are 100 pros who are desperate to win and won’t hesitate to occasionally take chances that no objective observer would consider reasonable. You can’t legislate common sense, but anyone who has been around him understands that Trip feels a great responsibility to put people in the position to make the right decision (and often suffers criticism for it). Fortune may favor the bold, but it also preys upon avarice and competitiveness.