Early Wednesday morning, Jack Kirk, captain of the fishing vessel Dragonet, woke up in his boat near a school of salmon -- and an unfamiliar 418-foot Coast Guard cutter.
By 10 a.m., for him and three other fishermen in the area, the fishing day was a total loss. Crewmen from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Waesche, a cutter based in Alameda, Calif., had conducted routine safety boardings -- but, Kirk said, they did it unskillfully, in bad weather, damaging boats and gear.
Damage and danger
Coast Guard personnel routinely board vessels for safety inspections. But Wednesday's inspections actually increased danger, Kirk said.
Kirk complained that the boarding boat dinged his vessel when it approached in heavy seas. He said it carried off trolling gear from another boat, the Lansing, despite captain John Moir's entreaty to wait until he hauled it in. Moir didn't return a call Wednesday.
Vessel owners schedule dockside inspections with the Coast Guard every year, but also are subject to safety inspections on the water at any time. And when the fish are biting, time is money.
It was the clumsy boarding of ships in bad weather that irritated fishermen Wednesday, said Kirk.
'The kids that they're making do this are in harm's way," Kirk said. 'To watch them do it, you'd think they are out of their minds."
Inspections are routine
According to USCGC Waesche's website, the ship, commissioned in May 2010, is still undergoing 'operational testing and evaluation, combat systems qualification, tailored ships training, and deployment work-ups." It carries a crew of 109 to 143, depending on its mission.
Petty Officer Shawn Eggert, public affairs officer for USCG Sector Columbia River at Warrenton, confirmed that damage claim forms were distributed to the fishermen this morning and will be 'reviewed and investigated."
For security reasons, he said, he couldn't release any information about the Waesche's schedule. But he said it wasn't a training exercise -- just routine safety boardings. 'We wouldn't train for boardings by doing boardings," he said.
Eggert acknowledged that damage sometimes occurs, especially during bad weather. 'We don't have the intention to go out there and screw up these guys' livelihoods," he said.
'We're doing our job, and they're doing theirs."
That was no consolation to Kirk, who resented the loss of a day of salmon fishing.
'Yesterday, I made a few thousand dollars," he said.
But Wednesday morning, like the three other fishermen in the area, he just went back to port.
Reporter Gail Elber can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 234, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.