A month ago Crescent City harbor became the epicenter of a multi-organization response to the March 11 tsunami. A small city surrounded by cyclone fencing sprung up in the same lot where I used to park to buy crab at Lucy’s. Trailers, people in uniform and heavy equipment buzzed with activity fueled by the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.
Diver Brent Seymour of Global Diving in Seattle wipes off the wheel and tiller from F/V Kodiak before handing them over to the owner.The Daily Triplicate/Michele Thomas
My first glimpse behind the gates was on a wet Wednesday afternoon. The prior day a member of the U.S. Coast Guard called on Richard Wiens and me. Rachel Polish, public information officer from San Francisco, came to extend an invitation. She asked that the Triplicate’s editorial board meet with the United Command of the Crescent City Tsunami Response Team. Caught by surprise, we responded that to date we’ve only convened the board during elections. Young and petite, but knowledgeable and determined, Rachel convinced us to assemble a representative group at the operations trailer the next day.
Four of us met with U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Commander Gus Bannon, Lt. Brian Arnold of the Department of Fish and Game Office Spill Prevention and Response, and Dr. Richard Young, CEO and Harbormaster of the Crescent City Harbor District – who, together, constituted the United Command. Rachel was right. The meeting was not only informative but provided background that made future reporting better. And it created relationships.
Rachel and I stayed in contact after she was called back to the Bay Area. I emailed her at the end of that emotional Tuesday when the attempt to salvage the F/V Kodiak failed. She replied from New Jersey where she was attending her grandmother’s funeral. “Know that the command (and Coast Guard) are here to support you in any way we can,” she wrote.
Behind every story there’s a story. The Kodiak’s was told on the front page of this newspaper. There was mention of a diver who salvaged the wheel and tiller. I was there.
When it became apparent that the Kodiak was too far gone to be saved, the diver came ashore. I could feel his rage – he was boiling over at having to give up on that boat. He yanked his work gloves off and threw them on a bench, then disappeared into the Global Diving trailer.
PA1 Rachel Polish, PIO, Crescent City Tsunami Response in Richard Wiens’ office during a visit to The Daily Triplicate The Daily Triplicate/Michele Thomas
A few minutes later he returned to the Kodiak, forgetting his gloves. When he came back to where I was standing he was carrying the wheel and the tiller. He carefully placed them on the bench with his gloves. He went back in the trailer then back to the bench with a bottle of water and rags. He knelt down and polished his treasures, erasing caked sand and mud. When he was satisfied, he put the wheel in one hand and the tiller in the other and walked the length of the parking lot to find Mike Garfield, the captain. As I looked around, every man and woman in uniform was crying.
To the best of my knowledge the divers have left now and the Coast Guard will be gone by the end of the week. The fence is down and trailers are disappearing fast.
“This is not my first response, yet one where I felt the most connected to the community. I think this response had a lasting impression on all of us. The Coast Guard is always committed to Crescent City - response or not - but I think many of us have some amazing stories that will stay with us for a long time,” Rachel wrote in an email to me Monday night.
Some day Crescent City harbor will be rebuilt and the parking lot will be overflowing with crab pots and pickup trucks again. And the ghosts of the lost boats and the spirit of the men and women who tried to save them will be there, too.