Last Saturday, a busy crab season opener coincided with heavy Pacific swells off the coast of Washington State, prompting three back-to-back rescues – including a dramatic towing evolution in 18-foot waves.
Coast Guard rescue crews out of Ilwaco, Washington responded to three separate distress calls during the opener. At 0730 hours, Station Cape Disappointment and Station Grays Harbor launched motor lifeboat rescue crews to assist a fishing vessel taking on water near Willapa Bay. A Coast Guard helicopter eventually hoisted three individuals and their dog off their capsized vessel.
At 0915, the Cape Disappointment crew diverted south to Gearhart, Oregon to help another fishing vessel with an injured crewmember. The victim had suffered injuries to the head and the foot when the vessel was struck by a wave; despite heaving 16-18 foot seas, the motor lifeboat transferred over a crewmember to give first aid. Given the surface conditions, the crew decided that it would be safest for the crewmember and the victim to remain on board the fishing vessel and head back to Ilwaco, on the other side of the Columbia River bar.
Meanwhile, at 0930, another motor lifeboat crew was dispatched to assist a 66-foot crab boat which had lost power and was drifting towards shore near Long Beach, just north of Ilwaco. The boat had five crewmembers aboard and was dragging anchor.
In 16 to 18-foot seas, the motor lifeboat crew passed over a line, got vessel in tow, de-anchored it, and began the transit south. The 66-foot boat was a bit on the large side for the towing capabilities of the 47-foot lifeboat, so the MLB crew from the previous rescue joined in and made up alongside. The crew reported that even with both MLBs, the ebb tide was strong enough that the three vessels were sometimes unable to make any headway.
Video courtesy USCG / PO2 Steven Strohmaier
While crossing the bar, the ebb tide was sometimes strong enough that the vessels were unable to make any headway. The disabled vessel was taken to a pier in Warrenton, Ore., and safely docked around 2130 hours.
“The evening before, the crews were up at 1:30 a.m. A strong storm had knocked the power out around the local area. The crab fleet had just begun to depart for sea so the crewmembers immediately validated that the Columbia River Bar range lights and the lighthouse were operating under generator properly. It is truly impressive to witness that sort of dedication,” said Lt. Jessica Shafer, the commanding officer of Station Cape Disappointment.
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