which side are you on?


Staff member
This is a tricky one and I am not 100% sure where I come down on this. I would have fully backed the captain had his behavior after the suicide been different but he didn’t (apparently) follow some basic seamanship rules and now has been charged with manslaughter. Here is the story as we best can tell and I say ‘as best we can tell' because there are some big gaps that need filling in.

Captain Rick Smith runs a charter business out of Camden, Maine and St. John in the U.S. Virgin islands aboard his 43-foot yawl, Cimarron, and has been doing so for a number of years. In October 2015 he and a crew were delivering the yacht to the winter sailing grounds when one of the crew members, a man by the name of David Pontious, suddenly jumped overboard and drowned. In court filings Captain Smith said that Pontious had been seasick for three days and had been growing increasingly paranoid.

He also stated that Pontious had attacked him minutes before jumping overboard. Now, almost three years later, the federal court in St John has begun to lay out their case against Rick Smith. Why suddenly three years after the incident took place are they only now getting around to pressing charges? Beats me except it may just be that they are running on ‘island time.’

I would be calling total BS on the whole thing and would have stated that Smith, the captain, should not be charged had he acted differently in the moments after Pontious jumped overboard. According to the other crew there was zero attempt made to get Pontious back on board. No lifebouy was tossed and there was no grid pattern search done to look for him. Indeed it took Smith 32 hours before he managed to raise another vessel on the VHF asking them to keep a lookout for Pontious.

This kind of gross negligence has me feeling that there is something a little suspect about our good captain. The fact that he told authorities that he  didn’t try and locate Pontious was because he feared for his safety and the safety of the other crew members rings a little bit hollow to me. Smith stated that he saw Pontius go under and not resurface and that is why he did not turn back and search. Plus, he added, that he was scared to death that if Pontius got back on the vessel, he would throw other people overboard. I am calling BS on that statement as well. As I said from the outset I am not sure where I come down on this but I do think this whole incident is about a Ship of Fools and believe me I have come across some complete nut jobs in the 40-plus years I have been making a living sailing.

According to court documents, the prosecution plans to call at least two maritime experts who will testify that Smith, as captain, should have intervened long before Pontious jumped from the Cimarron. “I would say that there were a number of failures on the captain’s part that lead up to the situation in the first place,” wrote Capt. Glen Allen, a government witness and U.S. Coast Guard licensed captain for more than 30 years. Allen also stated that Smith did not do enough to vet Pontious before allowing him on board and should have altered course to the nearest safe harbor once it was clear Pontious was suffering.

“I find the action of the captain after the victim jumped overboard totally unacceptable,” Allen wrote. “It would seem to me that you would make some attempt at saving this life even if I thought it would do no good – every person deserves at least a fighting chance.”

I have plied the waters between Maine and the Caribbean for many years and can testify that there are some very sketchy people looking for rides too and from the tropics. That, in many ways, is the fun of it and Jimmy Buffett knew it as well when he wrote in his song Banana Republic, "some are running tons of ganga some are running from the IRS.” That’s not all they are running from or toward. I think  that the witness that Smith’s defense team engaged summed this whole mess succinctly when he wrote, “I believe the responsibility for the loss of Mr. Pontious is solely the fault of Mr. Pontious himself.”  That much I agree with. - Brian Hancock.



Super Anarchist
I hate to say it, but that Captain deserves jail time. I was on his side right up until the MOB happened. I don’t care how crazy the dude was, you don’t just say “fuck it” and sail on. He could’ve radioed that a batshit crazy dude jumped overboard and requested help. He didn’t. 



Super Anarchist
It is very difficult.  I had to grab a client's middle finger down to the TV camera!  And he was acquitted.  His friend was convicted of murder.  You have to do your best no matter your emotions.  I vote that the pilot no longer have paid passengers.  There but for...



The quote that really stuck out to me was after the Capt threw Pontious off balance and took back the VHF, he supposedly said “Touch my equipment again and I’ll slit your throat.” And then Pontious jumped overboard. I can easily see the Capt saying “good riddance.”



Super Anarchist
Charleston, SC
I never met David, but knew his parents pretty well when this went down.  They are some of the nicest people in sailing I've known.  If this apple was anywhere near the family tree I'd say this was manslaughter at the least.  This has to be so difficult for them....



Super Anarchist
New Orleans
This was at night?  What point of sail and what weather conditions?  Anyone know?  If the "grid" would have involved beating back upwind into mountainous seas with a cruiser that doesn't like to go upwind, I would tend to think that nothing Smith could have done (though he should have at least tried) would have changed the outcome---lost overboard, likely drowned quickly.

Now if it was a light-air clear visibility night, I take back what I just said.

But you have to make the attempt, even if you conclude after trying that it's useless and dangerous.  And throw the life ring.  And Mayday for assistance

Ed, you're right--"tricky".   And the standard in criminal court is caused death beyond reasonable doubt--not what we or the jury think "probably" or even "likely" happened.  

Civil case under the Jones Act, it's the more likely than not ("preponderance of the evidence") standard.   Different animal.

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I have a perfectly normal, well loved by friends and family, family member who became sick with late onset schizophrenia at age 55.  He would switch back and forth from seemly normal to totally paranoid when off his meds, a big problem with this illness, (they feel better so they stop taking it).   Tin foil hat, several 6 week stints in a mental ward, real, shaking fear of and running inside at the site of any airplane,  same with gubmit surveillance,....... all of it.  At his worst he punched a colleague at an academic conference.  If you met him on the street he might be as normal as you and I but a few hours later he could be crazy.  Casual acquaintances have no idea.  We, family & good friends, look after him, it can be heart breaking.  Thankfully he has been doing very well the last 5 - 7 years.  However, I know him very well and sometimes I can tell he isn't the same old person.  I say this because you might never know if someone is truly crazy.  As for adequate vetting, Capt Smith would never know as medical history is confidential.  My family member had police called to his home a couple times but I don't think he was ever arrested so that might be a dead end.  Perhaps Pontious was sick in this way.  These people are really crazy and can do crazy things spontaneously, up to and including murder.    Smith could easily have concern for his safety while no one else would have a clue as to how crazy Pontious might be.  OTOH I think Capt Smith should have at least made a show of a search for the MOB and notified authorities or, as suggested, put Pontious ashore and/or called police once there.  I'd certainly give Smith the benefit of the doubt if his other crew testify that Pontious was acting crazy.  It could be that Pontious was just seasick and agitated until he really went off his rocker where upon he confronted Capt Smith in a hostile way then just jumped overboard.  Behaviour can be very spontaneous and unexpected.  Maybe Pontious was so paranoid that he though his life was in danger and his only escape was to jump overboard.  The above speculations could certainly happen in my family members case.  However I do think a review of Smith's captain's license (concerning his lack of MOB action) should be up for review.   Hopefully justice will be found.  I wish peace for Pontious' family and Cp Smith. This sounds awful for both.



I think there is a lot to this story that we all don't know.  Captain Smith is from Maine and there have been a few articles in the papers.  One thing that makes a difference for me is that Pontious was heavy and strong and in one of the articles it said it took everyone to control him. Not a good situation to be in.  They only had a VHF radio so could not contact USCG right away.  I have been on boats with a sea sick and strange crew and don't know how I would control one who was stronger than me.



Yikes, I read the article just linked.  Pontious did sound crazy, like my family member, (or some med combo made him that way).  Smith shoulda thrown the damn life ring and done a few sweeps for the MOB.  However in such an emotionally charged, spontaneous situation (MOB at nite & threatening crazy on board), it could be hard to act rationally until calmed down.  Better to save the ring for when it might have done some good and was really needed?  Stupid act & comment to crew when he later thru it overboard.  The comment about "theres nothing we can do now" just after the MOB might have been the truth.  They may have seen or heard Ponious hit his head really hard to concluded that.  It will be interesting to follow.   Sad for all concerned.  Not the same but this reminds me of Russell Perdock killing the sailor in Lake County, Ca and what a travesty that was/is.



Super Anarchist
Didn't hit the MOB on the GPS? Didn't do anything to locate him? Uh, even if he was belligerent he would be exhausted once found and if not just leave in the water until he is. Then pull him on board and duct tape his hands behind him until help arrives or reaching port. No excuse for leaving someone to drown. Unless there is info not made known the Captain would not want me on that jury.



Super Anarchist
hoppy said:
Not guilty..... Fuck Pontious 

If someone wants to commit suicide, let them achieve their goal as long as no innocents are going to be hurt. 
I’m starting to think it’s a good thing you don’t own a boat anymore. 



New member
Here are the circumstances of that night as I understand them: This was the third day at sea; 350 miles offshore, 10 pm, 18 knots TWS, 10 ft seas, hard on the wind, with jib, staysail, main and mizzen. Pontius was around100 lbs heavier than Smith, and had been trying to wrestle control of the helm for hours. He had tried to strangle Smith and had punched him repeatedly. When Pepper tried to pull him off he had said "he'd be next". After a lull in his attempt at mutiny, Pontius stood up and said something to the effect of "alright then", stepped over the leeward lifeline and jumped into the water. The back of his head banged the cap rail as he went in and straight down. Bubbles were seen but no sign of him resurfacing in the beam of the flashlight. Smith's primary concern at that moment was for his own safety, safety of the other crew and the boat. He was relieved  that the threat was over when Pontius jumped overboard. Smith had no Satphone, and navigates using Navionics charts on an I-Pad that requires a code to access. He broadcast a Mayday with coordinates on SSB. Though Smith heard no response,It was picked up by a participant in a rally for cruisers and relayed to the USCG in Norfolk logged in at 0500 Zulu. There is no autopilot. The two other crew did not have much experience, and had been cowed by the strength and antics of Pontius. They were traumatized and didn't speak for the rest of the trip.The USCG was subsequently contacted by Chris Parker , the weather router after a scheduled SSB call by Smith many hours later. The USCG advised mariners in the area to keep a lookout. A plane was dispatched to search for Pontius ... A tragedy all round.

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