Haines commercial fisherman Marty Smith is scrambling to find a new boat this week after his boat, the Rip Tide, was struck by a tender and sank near Mab Island last week.
The 35-foot fiberglass boat was fishing near Point Widbey around midnight Tuesday, July 23. "It was dark and rainy, it was not ideal conditions," Smith said.
Smith was on deck to check his gear at the time of the accident. He heard a boat approaching, but couldn't place the sound. He realized his boat was in peril moments before it was struck by the Ola Jean, a 128-foot, 200-ton tender. "I only had seconds to put all this together."
Seeing the bigger boat bearing down on him was frightening, Smith said. "I thought 'This is it...' It's like looking up and seeing a ferry boat running you over. It's a big boat."
Smith estimates the boat's speed at the time of impact at 7 to 9 knots. "It was definitely moving along."
Smith yelled for his sleeping deckhand, nephew Lance Smith, to get up before impact.
The Ola Jean hit the Rip Tide squarely in the stern, Smith said, which he said was fortunate. "The bow pushed forward instead of rolling over" as it would if the boat were hit on the side, he said.
Smith climbed to the flying bridge and began steaming toward the Ola Jean, hailing them on his radio. By that time, water was seeping into the cabin. "The stern of my boat was caved in. It was sinking," Smith said.
Smith and the Ola Jean's crew, including skipper Richard LeMay, crewmen John Lemay and Kirk Opheim and passengers Peter and Joy Poquet, tried to pump water from the sinking Rip Tide - to no avail.
Smith and his deckhand boarded the Ola Jean, which then attempted to tow the boat to shallow waters off Mab Island, Smith said.
After about two hours of towing, the boats were about 1.25 miles off Mab Island, where the Rip Tide sank in approximately 160 fathoms of water, Smith said.
Smith used a cell phone to call his fiance, who relayed information about the accident to the Coast Guard. After the boat sank, the Ola Jean steamed to Haines, where Haines police administered breathalyzer tests. Everyone's was negative, chief Greg Goodman said.
The Ola Jean is chartered by World Seafood Producers, a Juneau processor. Company owner Scott Eckles this week said bad weather was a factor in the accident. "The visibility was two feet in front of you. It was major, major foggy."
The Ola Jean was headed for Mab Island at the time of the accident, Eckles said. "He was headed to anchor up the boat because it was getting too foggy."
The Ola Jean's crew failed to see the Rip Tide on the radar because it didn't show up, Eckles said. The short distance between the two boats and the fact that Smith's boat was sitting low in the water made the Rip Tide invisible to the larger boat, he said. "When you have a big mast like that, you have a blind spot."
Eckles said he's relieved no one was seriously hurt or killed. "A lot of times when you have an accident like that, that's not the case."
Smith is hoping to be back casting his net soon, but needs a new boat, he said. Special requirements for roe recovery boats make pickings slim, he said. "It's hard to find a boat that I can immediately go out fishing in that's (Department of Environmental Conservation) approved."
The Coast Guard is investigating the incident.
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