Improving ‘Hell’s Gate’ safety, a notoriously dangerous waterway for boaters

Reporter: Amy Galo
Published: Updated:

After the deaths of two people, there is a push to make an area known as “Hell’s Gate” — a dangerous stretch of water with several blind corners within Little Hickory Baysafer — safer.

In March, WINK News told you John Moulder and Judy Eaton were killed when their boat crashed into the mangroves.

Eaton’s children, Brittney and Beau, told WINK News they’re glad to see something is finally getting done, but they think if it had been done sooner, their mom and her boyfriend might still be alive.

When Eaton moved down to Florida, she embraced the atmosphere.

“She was having a pretty good time; she called us every day, we talked,” said Beau Morris. “She bragged how nice the weather was there versus the weather we’re dealing with.”

It’s where she and her boyfriend planned to live out their golden years.

“She got three years to have fun, relax, not have to show up to a job every day,” said Morris.

But it was cut short.

“It was just a day where she was excited to go out fishing, and you know, to turn into such a tragedy,” said Burton. “We don’t really know what happened, but just other drivers being careless out there.”

Judy and John lost their lives in March after a boating crash on Little Hickory Bay, in an area locals have nicknamed “Hell’s Gate” and “Dead Man’s Corner.”

“It’s a narrow channel. It’s very windy; you go around corners, and you don’t see what’s coming the other way,” said Tim McLaughlin, the dock master at Freedom Boat Club.

Locals said, after Hurricane Ian, the no-wake-zone signs blew away. However, starting in May, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission established a new slow-speed minimum wake zone.

“It is definitely a good idea,” said McLaughlin.

The zone will always be in effect and extend for roughly 1,500 feet through the area of Spoil and Mangrove Islands, known as Hell’s Gate.

“Probably wouldn’t be having this conversation if it had been done immediately after the waters were opened back up after the hurricane,” said Morris.

WINK News reached out to FWC to ask about their decision to implement the speed limit and what happened to the original signs. You can read their response below:

“Slow Speed, Minimum Wake signs will be erected in the newly established Boating Safety Zone within Little Hickory Bay. The Boating Safety Zone will be patrolled by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officers.

Signage marking an unpermitted Boating Restricted Area existed prior to the establishment of this zone. Pursuant to Florida law, those signs had to be removed. Immediately following the removal of the signs, the FWC began working with Collier County government to reestablish the zone in accordance with Florida law.”

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