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What lies beneath

Skippers who lost their boats ponder future

 Workers use flotation bags to bring the Hard Rock to the surface. After removing its oil, they let it sink again — for now. The Daily Triplicate/Bryant Anderson
Workers use flotation bags to bring the Hard Rock to the surface. After removing its oil, they let it sink again — for now. The Daily Triplicate/Bryant Anderson
Fishermen who spent thousands of hours and dollars maintaining their boats saw their efforts wash away in the surges of the March 11 tsunami that sank their vessels.

Eight of the 16 boats that sank in Crescent City Harbor were privately owned fishing boats, and many of those were uninsured.

Insurance was either too expensive or, in some cases, unattainable, fishermen said.

Now they must wait as their boats are plucked from the bottom of the inner boat basin to see if they are salvageable.

If the uninsured boats can’t be repaired, owners will have to pay for demolition costs, unless they signed their boats off to the harbor like at least one of them already has.

Some say they have the option of continuing to fish by leasing boats or joining other fishing crews.

Charles Schnacker employed two men on the 33-foot Stormy before it sunk.

“I have a broken leg, so I couldn’t get into it,” said Schnacker of being unable to take the Stormy to sea before the surges hit. “I just had it tied tight and was hoping for the best.”

The Stormy is now in three pieces spread across the harbor, he has been told.

Schnacker, who’s been fishing for 25 years, said he’s waiting to see if a federal disaster is declared so he could possibly receive financial assistance.

“Otherwise, I have to start back as a deckhand, save my money and work back to being a boat owner again,” said Schnacker.

One fisherman lost two boats in the tsunami.

Marty Lopez watched both the Nellie and Hard Rock sink.

“I’m hoping the Nellie is salvageable,” said Lopez.

He said the Nellie had a few maintenence problems that would’ve prevented him from taking her to sea before the tsunami hit.

The 34-foot Nellie has yet to be pulled out of the basin, while the Hard Rock has since been  signed over to the harbor.

Lopez has talked to a couple of friends who have offered him boats they no longer need. He fishes year-round harvesting crab, tuna and rock cod, but didn’t have a very good past year.

“I try not to pay attention to how much I make; otherwise I’d probably end up quitting,” said Lopez, who employed two people.

Lopez has to decide if he wants to finish paying back the money he owes for his fishing permits.

“I won’t have any money to eat,” said Lopez. “I’m just hoping to get back on the ocean as soon as possible.”

Fishermen whose boats survived the tsunami have been helping out the others, said Terry Groat, owner of the sunken Reward.

“I’m thankful that I have friends who are bringing my gear in for me,” said Groat, who has been fishing for 40 years and employed two people.

The Reward’s engine quit in February and Groat was in the process of putting in another one when the tsunami struck.

“Otherwise, I would’ve had it out on the ocean,” said Groat.

He opted to stay at home during the tsunami because he didn’t want to see his boat destroyed.

“You have a loving relationship with your boat (as a fisherman),” said Groat. “As a matter of fact, I told my girlfriend there’s two women in my life I don’t mind spending money on; one of them is my boat and the other one’s you.”

He said he'd put tens of thousands of dollars into the 39-foot Reward since 2003, including an engine and a new electrical system.

“Hopefully, they can get it up soon, so I can salvage what I can and get this thing behind me,” said Groat, who is currently building another boat.

He has been offered four boats to lease for the upcoming salmon season, and hopes to have his new boat finished by next crab season.

There’s a 68-foot boat at the bottom of the basin that Mike Garfield is waiting on.

Garfield had been rebuilding the Kodiak for 12 years. There were 15,000 man-hours and $100,000 dedicated to the ship, he said, and he was only a couple of months short of completion.

Garfield, a retired machinist, said he was hoping to sell it to someone or donate it for an educational purpose.

The Kodiak was used to rescue people stranded on an island in Alaska after a tsunami triggered by the same 1964 earthquake that sent tidal waves into Crescent City, Garfield said.

A floating crane is headed to Crescent City to remove many of the sunken vessels at no charge to the fishermen, U.S. Coast Guard officials said.

"We're not here to add any further angst and burden to their situation," said Tom Stuhlreyer, a U.S. Coast Guard commander. He said boat owners should contact the Coast Guard if they have any concerns.

In addition, there will be no charge for boats that are removed by harbor staff, Harbormaster Richard Young said.

Five boats that sank were owned by the harbor through liens. Two vessels that sank were privately owned pleasure boats, and one was described in a harbor list as a derelict.

Harbor staff and officials were in the process of getting grants to fund the demolition of the liened boats before the tsunami struck, Young said.


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