I don’t stop to gawk at accidents nor do I have any desire to watch a fire burn. It’s not in my nature to get in the thick of things that are best left to professionals. So, during and after the recent tsunami, staying clear of the harbor seemed like the natural and wisest thing to do.
Father and son Charles Schnacker and Charles Jr. wait to see Stormy surface. The Daily Triplicate/Michele Thomas
I had access to photos, videos and eyewitness accounts. All I had to do was check in with photographer Bryant or one of our reporters covering the harbor or ask editor Richard for an update, and I had my tsunami news. And Rick, in his capacity as Coast Guard Auxiliary public affairs officer, was now at the harbor daily sharing what he was allowed to with this civilian.
It was my desire to see Rick in action that took me to the harbor Saturday. I was curious to see what he actually did there.
I called him while he was on duty and asked him to lunch. I found Rick in uniform downstairs in the harbor district office. He said harbormaster Richard Young was upstairs and would probably welcome a quick visit, so I climbed the spiral staircase to the second floor to say hello to Richard and thank him for staying on when we needed him.
After lunch at Fisherman’s, Rick accompanied me to check out the crane everyone’s been talking about. We arrived at the boat basin just as the Ruth M, the first boat the crane lifted from the bottom, was being transported from the parking lot. Next, Rick told me, the crane would be going after the Stormy.
It was around 1 p.m. then, and I thought I’d stick around for maybe half an hour. I hadn’t brought a coat, nor had I worn socks, and I had a million chores waiting at home.
The weather at the harbor Saturday went from mostly cloudy, to partly sunny, to showers to hard rain to sun. The size of the crowd fluctuated with the weather, when the rain blew sideways only a few hardy folks stuck around. Many more watched from their vehicles.
The crane was the center of attention, and when the show didn’t move quickly enough for some they complained. New arrivals asked, “What time will they be lifting up the next boat?” as if I or anyone else could predict what obstacles would have to be overcome to get Stormy up.
I watched divers go under water and wrap wide yellow straps around whatever was left of Stormy below. I checked out various vantage points to find the best angle for a photo because, after all, if I was going to witness the raising of the Stormy, I wanted to have the shot.
Just about everyone there was a photographer, whether they were using their phone or a fancy Nikon with a tripod (just saw one of those). But when it started to pour, the crowd thinned out and during the worst of it, as the harness around the Stormy started to be pulled taut, only a few of us remained out in the weather.
I stood next to a man and his wife who said they owned Stormy 15 years ago. They had another fishing boat now, one that survived the tsunami. They spoke to another man who, I discovered later, had owned Stormy before them. When a front row parking space became available, the wife stood there to hold it while her husband got their car. They would watch from inside.
The people in cars did not want people like me blocking their view. Some honked. One yelled. I finally stood in front of an SUV whose driver sat on the hood and waved me over letting me know it was OK to stand in front of his vehicle. When he saw I was shivering, he invited me to sit in his car with the heater on. He was parked next to a black truck. I noticed that people were coming over to the driver of the black truck and patting him on the shoulder, talking to him, giving him lots of encouragement. My hero on the hood said, “That’s his boat. He’s sitting in his truck because he has a broken leg. That’s why he couldn’t get his boat out of the harbor during the tsunami. His leg was broken.”
Stormy, a Port Orford cedar-planked fishing boat built in 1942 in Bay City, Ore., was raised from Crescent City Harbor, Saturday around 6:30 p.m. The Daily Triplicate/Michele Thomas
I walked over to the driver’s window of the black truck and introduced myself. I told the man I was very sorry about his boat. His eyes were kind and his handshake firm. He agreed to let me take his photo if I took it with his son. “We both have the same name,” his son told me.
From that moment on, no matter how I tried to concentrate on the crane, the divers and the effort to raise the Stormy, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the fisherman, his family and circle of friends. I became painfully in tune with their anguishing wait.
I held my breath as we watched the first effort to raise Stormy fail,and divers were sent back into the water. Finally, after over five hours of waiting, the crane hoisted slowly and the surface of the water broke. Perhaps for a moment, like me, her owners hoped for a miracle, that somehow Stormy would be whole and healed and ready to fish again.
The rain had stopped and when I looked to the east I saw a rainbow. I tried to take a picture knowing no one would believe me when I told them a rainbow appeared just as Stormy came up, but I couldn’t focus. “Here she comes,” I heard someone say. “Oh, look at all those wires hanging out,” someone else said. “Oh, God, what are we going to do? That’s the only life he’s ever known,” the woman next to me whispered.
I turned again to look at Stormy’s captain just as the back of his hand wiped tears from his cheek. I aimed and snapped. His son walked over to me and quietly, without any anger or animosity, asked me please not to publish that photo of his dad. Behind him I could see the black truck pulling out with just the driver inside.
They didn’t know me and I didn’t know them, but we stood together in one of those raw life events, when strangers are bound together by tragedy and despair. We shared a moment, the precise moment when Stormy broke through the water and confirmed what we dreaded, that she would never need her captain again.
More photos of the raising of the Stormy and her rescue can be found at www.triplicate.com/mycapture.