Howling winds take toll on boaters in Fossil Bay

A US Coast Guard skiff is among the boats that were blown aground when heavy winds blew through Fossil Bay on Sucia Island, May 27.  - Contributed photo/Jared Payne
A US Coast Guard skiff is among the boats that were blown aground when heavy winds blew through Fossil Bay on Sucia Island, May 27.
— image credit: Contributed photo/Jared Payne

By Steve Wehrly, Journal reporter

The early morning hours of Sunday, May 27, proved once again that perils of wind and tide spare neither man or boat, and that even the Coast Guard is sometimes left on the beach.

After a “glorious, calm, sunny Saturday,” Jared Payne of San Juan Island was safely tied up and asleep at the dock in Fossil Bay at Sucia Island, a state marine park popular with local boaters. With him were his wife, Michelle, and his two sons, Brandon, 11, and Mitchell, 6.

About 2 a.m., Jared was awakened by “wind that sounded like a freight train” as it slammed against the side of his boat. Payne, a Bristol Bay fisherman for 10 years, estimated the winds were gusting “about 30 knots, maybe more.” The Coast Guard said later that the marine forecast late Saturday evening predicted southwest winds at 15 to 25 knots.

Twenty minutes later, as he re-checked his dock lines, Payne said “all hell broke loose.” Boats horns and sirens were blaring and boat searchlights were flashing to awaken owners whose boats had dragged anchor or broken loose from mooring buoys. “Brandon and Mitchell thought the excitement was cool,” said Payne, “but I’ll bet the three sailboats I saw floating across Fossil Bay didn’t think so.”

“Everyone in Fossil Bay got lucky -- nobody collided with anybody, and nobody went aground,” said Payne.

Boats in Echo Bay and Shallow Bay weren’t so lucky, as Payne found out the next day when they cruised around the island.

In Echo Bay, the Coast Guard’s 87-foot cutter Sea Lion was spending the night, waiting out the expected winds. About 2 a.m., as the wind increased,  the Sea Lion deployed its shallow draft inflatable, which spent several hours assisting drifting boats, pulling them away from rocks and helping re-anchor or re-tie to the many mooring buoys in the big bay.

Before low tide at 6:30 a.m., the inflatable reportedly approached a 23-foot Bayliner Trophy grounded in shallow water on the north side of the bay. Within a few minutes, before the Trophy could be re-floated, the tide went out and the storm surge abated, leaving both boats sitting high and dry on the flat rocks.

In Shallow Bay, at the west end of Sucia, a 40-foot trawler went aground on the north side of the bay after apparently dragging anchor. A 45-foot Coast Guard Response Boat Medium arrived on scene from Bellingham before 7 a.m. to find the trawler solidly aground. The trawler’s captain was reportedly offered to be offloaded, but, with no damage apparent, decided to wait out the tide.

It proved to be a long wait. Because the next high tide, at 9:05 a.m., was less than one-half foot higher than the low tide, Sea Lark, and the two boats in Echo Bay, could not be floated free until 10:30 that night.

The Coast Guard said no injuries or damages were reported. Brandon and Mitchell were left to report their great adventure to their schoolmates on Tuesday.


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