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Swift currents of Bunces Pass are treacherous

TIERRA VERDE — The shifting sands and swift current of Bunces Pass make it challenging for boaters, but deadly for swimmers like 29-year-old Kevin Persad, who disappeared in the pass last week.

The tidal inlet that separates Mullet Key, more commonly known as Fort De Soto Park, from nearby Shell Key is a "dynamic" pass that stays open without the help, or interference, of man.

Most of Pinellas County's other passes, from Hurricane in the north to Pass-a-Grille in the south, would likely fill with sand or change course were it not for regular maintenance.

But Bunces Pass is an example of a natural, tidal dominated inlet scoured each day by the vast amount of water drained from nearby grass flats and funneled between two sandbars.

"The current rips," said Jim Wilson, Fort De Soto's chief ranger. "When the moon is full, it will run at 5 or 6 knots."

Technically, Bunces Pass is a nonnavigable inlet. You won't find any channel markers at its entrance on the Gulf of Mexico. Yet each day dozens of local boaters travel in and out of Tampa Bay via this deep-water channel.

Nautical charts show the depth at 20 feet. But head out there today and you will find the water 34 feet deep. That could change in a matter of days if a tropical storm or hurricane rolls up the Gulf Coast.

"The only thing consistent about Bunces Pass is that it is always changing," said Wilson, who has seen the inlet's sandbars wobble back and forth, north and south, for more than 20 years.

There are several "dangerous current" and "no swimming signs" between the county park's parking lot and the spot where Wednesday's accident occurred.

Fort De Soto has nearly a mile of "safe bathing" areas, and Wilson encourages all park patrons to swim near a lifeguard.

"Passes like Bunces can be very dangerous," Wilson said. "You could be standing in a swash channel (a shallow side channel) and step off into deep water and the current just sweeps you off your feet."

Terry Tomalin can be reached at tomalin@sptimes.com.

Swift currents of Bunces Pass are treacherous 09/20/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 21, 2010 7:03am]
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