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Kodiak skipper recounts sinking of wooden seiner

Posted: July 21, 2012 - 11:07pm

KODIAK — One month ago, seine fisherman Luke Anderson had the toughest day of his life.

On June 18, Anderson’s boat, the Scandia, sank off Harvester Island at the end of a days-long fight against the ocean. Anderson and his crew safely abandoned ship in their 17-foot seine skiff, but the hardest decision of the day wasn’t to leave the Scandia. It was leaving Anderson’s terrified dog, Bo, onboard.

“We tried and tried and tried, but there wasn’t a guy on the skiff who wasn’t bawling their eyes out,” Anderson told the Kodiak Daily Mirror.

Thanks to the good Samaritan efforts of a nearby fisherman, however, Anderson might have lost his boat, but he didn’t lose his dog.

“He found out the dog was there and drove 15 miles, then jumped in a skiff and drove 40 miles,” Anderson said. “People don’t just do that, you know what I mean.”

When it sank, the Scandia was on its first salmon trip of the season. The boat left Kodiak just as commercial fishing opened June 9. Its destination was the waters off the mouth of the Karluk River, a spot where salmon congregate in even-numbered years.

The Scandia, a wooden boat built in 1949, had been overhauled during the winter, and the boat seemed like it was bound for success this summer. “Our first set we made for the year was over 5,000 pounds,” Anderson said. “That’s just good fishing.”

Anderson has run his own fishing boat since 2008, when he started with the Northwind. The Scandia was his second boat. “I had no interest in owning a wooden boat, but once the broker pointed it out and pointed out the condition of it, I couldn’t resist,” he recalled. “They just don’t build them like that anymore.”

The Scandia was more than just a work boat for Anderson, his three daughters and son.

This year, Anderson took his son deer hunting. On the trip, the 12-year-old shot an enormous animal, possibly the 19th largest Sitka blacktail ever hunted.

“He got to go out with the boys,” Anderson said. “It was a dream come true.”

The older wooden boats in and around Kodiak are sturdy and flexible — they can be used for fisheries other than salmon.

Their big drawback — and the reason most new salmon seiners are built of fiberglass or metal — is that wood boats take an enormous amount of maintenance.

Each off-season, wooden boats fill Kodiak’s yards, sometimes cocooned within white plastic tents to keep wintertime work going regardless of weather.

During the Scandia’s winter work, maintainers focused on the boat’s stern.

“We discovered later, after we had been fishing, that (the stern) had sprung a leak and it was causing a problem for us,” Anderson recalled.

He declined to talk about the stern work, citing pending litigation, but said at first, the leak wasn’t serious.

The Scandia borrowed a pump from another boat and the crew got rid of the extra water. On the 16th, the boat unloaded a load of salmon to a tender and things began to fall apart.

“We thought we had a handle on the situation, then it all just let go,” Anderson said.

The crew tried everything they knew to fix the situation. They shifted the boat’s heavy seine net from the stern to amidships, moving weight to lift the leaking stern out of the water.

Anderson sailed east, looking for a calm stretch of water to reduce the choppy waves, but as the leak worsened and the stern dropped, he found himself trying to pump out the entire Shelikof Strait.

“You’re recycling the ocean by then,” he said.

At 11:35 a.m. June 17, Anderson started sending out a mayday. The Coast Guard can drop dewatering pumps to sinking boats, but by the time aircraft appeared overhead, the Scandia’s stern was already underwater.

Onboard was frantic activity as the crew donned their survival suits and tried to round up everything they could. While his crew boarded the boat’s skiff, Anderson stayed on the radio and tried to capture Bo, his 80-pound German shorthair pointer.

The dog, terrified by the lean of the boat, kept running away. With the Scandia seemingly ready to go under, Anderson made the call and joined his crew in the skiff. The men were lifted to safety by the Coast Guard, but Bo remained onboard.

Eighteen miles away was the Laura Lee, captained by Danny Gilbert, a 25-year fisherman and longtime friend of Anderson.

At first, Gilbert thought the rescue was all good news. Then he learned Bo was still onboard. “When I found out his dog was on the boat, that’s when I had to do something,” Gilbert said.

That Gilbert was in a position to do something was courtesy of another quirk of wooden boats — they are incredibly buoyant.

When Anderson left, the Scandia appeared ready to go under at any moment. But when he arrived in Kodiak at 1:30 p.m. aboard the Coast Guard helicopter, the boat was still afloat.

When Gilbert heard there might still be a chance to help, he stopped fishing, turned his boat around and headed toward the Scandia, now under tow by the salmon seiner Hazel Lorraine.

When the Laura Lee was too slow, Gilbert and a crewman jumped in their open-topped skiff and raced ahead across miles of open ocean to meet the Scandia.

“At that point, we’re like, what do we do,” Gilbert said. “That boat was ready to go; it was just amazing that it was still floating.”

Despite fearing that the Scandia could go at any moment, Gilbert climbed aboard. His mission was to get Bo.

Crewmen from the Hazel Lorraine had tried, but the frightened dog snapped and bit at them.

“That boat was getting rolled around, and stuff was banging,” Gilbert recalled. “It was like walking into a haunted vessel.”

In the boat’s galley, Gilbert found Bo and chased him around a table, trying to corral the reluctant dog.

With the help of a stick and a survival suit bag to poke Bo in the opposite direction, Gilbert finally managed to get the dog moving out.

About the same time, Anderson returned to the scene.

After arriving in Kodiak, he had learned the Scandia was still afloat and chartered an Andrew Airways floatplane to get back.

“I thought for some reason we might be able to get pumps aboard,” Anderson recalled. “Hindsight being 20/20 . even the insurance adjuster said if he had flown over it, he would have deemed it a total loss.”

Anderson still managed some progress, helping Gilbert recover the Scandia’s net and its skiff, left adrift after the boat’s crew was rescued.

“Danny Gilbert probably saved me over $100,000 of pure loss,” Anderson said in reference to the skiff and net. “He gave up two days of fishing time and just completely went way above and beyond good Samaritan.”

With its net removed, the Scandia settled back toward an even keel, letting some of the air bubbles burble out. “As more water came on over the next little while, it just plummeted into the ocean,” Gilbert said.

Shortly after 1:30 a.m., with the midnight sun still lingering on the horizon, the Scandia was gone.

For Anderson, the loss of his boat means a salmon season stuck on shore.

He helped his crew find jobs on other boats, but he is staying in Kodiak. “Right now I’m just helping a friend build some nets for the seine fleet and just keep myself occupied with the long process of getting the insurance done,” he said.

When the insurance comes through, he’ll be back on the water. He has a tentative offer on a new boat.

“I’m out of a job until I buy myself a new job, unfortunately,” he said. “I’ve got all my gear and all my stuff and all my permits . it’s just a matter of time.”

___

Information from: Kodiak (Alaska) Daily Mirror, http://www.kodiakdailymirror.com

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