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Owner mourns loss of tsunami-damaged boat

Posted: April 16, 2011 - 10:41pm

KODIAK — Part of the anguish has been the wait.

With the historic 1926 fishing vessel Kodiak below the surface in the Crescent City, Calif., boat harbor, owner Mike Garfield has been waiting for nearly a month to see if the project he spent the past 12 years of his life on could be refloated and salvaged.

The Kodiak sank in the tsunami generated by the 9.0 earthquake in Japan March 11. Garfield said he put in 15,000 hours and spent more than $100,000 restoring the 68-foot vessel that fished in Alaska for more than 35 years.

The story passed down with the vessel is that it rescued people stranded on an island in Alaska in the aftermath of the great earthquake and tsunami of 1964.

A crane and barge, supplied by the U.S. Coast Guard, arrived at Crescent City March 24. Garfield was initially told his boat would be among the first to be lifted, but pilings had to be removed to get the barge into position. It turns out the Kodiak was one of the last sunken vessels to come out of the water.

The wait was further prolonged when mechanical problems kept the crane from pulling the boat on April 4. Those were repaired and the Kodiak was scheduled to be lifted April 5.

Garfield said several friends were at the dock with him as the process to raise the boat was under way.

He received encouragement from others as well.

“You better believe it, the whole county was there,” Garfield said, “even people that don’t like me too much and thought I was crazy (for working on the Kodiak).”

Then Garfield was approached by the divers who had been working to secure the straps so the crane could lift the boat. He said he could tell the news by the way their heads hung low. They told him the Kodiak wasn’t going to float.

“They did everything they could,” Garfield said. “Bad news is bad news. I had to concur with their decision. They were afraid I would disagree, that I had some tricks up my sleeves.”

As the tsunami collapsed the Crescent City harbor, the Kodiak was badly damaged in the swirling, debris-filled water. Caught between the steel hull of another vessel and one of the pilings, the wooden hull crumpled.

“It looks like I’m going to have to preside over her death,” Garfield said. “All the positive spirit in the world couldn’t keep it floating.”

On April 5, Garfield sent the word out by email: “Although a valiant attempt was made by the Coast Guard and the barge crew, the Kodiak was found to be too badly damaged to remain afloat. She will be officially destroyed between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. our time tomorrow.

“We appreciate everyone pulling for us, but Mother Nature decided otherwise.”

The plan was to place the Kodiak in the shallow water of the Crescent City boat harbor on the morning of April 6, where the steel clamshell jaws of the crane will break her into pieces to be trucked off to a landfill.

But Garfield said all the work he put into the Kodiak was not in vain.

“I’ve learned so much history of the coast, of old fishing boats, yacking with old-timers, of wooden boats and wood in particular,” he said. “That’s something I keep.”

Working to restore the Kodiak was also a kind of therapy, Garfield said.

Garfield said he was pretty “messed up” after coming home from the Vietnam War, and working on the Kodiak helped him feel human again and feel productive.

“That was worth a lot,” he said. “I am able to take the loss of the boat now, when six or eight years ago I couldn’t.”

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