I ordinarily try to avoid ranting in public. It generally does no good and can be enormously unattractive. But some things just call for a response.
I have been seeing a lot of warnings on social media and in various publications, about the BIG waves – 40 feet – that we are going to see on the coast this week. I’ve seen weather reports, newspaper articles, and warnings from the Coast Guard about the hazards of being on the beach over the next few days.
And then, AND THEN (you can hear the rant coming) I see an article from The Oregonian, THE OREGONIAN, of all things, one of the biggest publications in the state, telling people where they can go to watch waves because they’ll be really big and it’ll be really cool. And here’s a list of place where you can see the waves close up. What? WHAT? I know Portland is insulated from life on the coast, but really?
I shared a post from the US Coast Guard this weekend on Facebook where they were literally BEGGING people to stay off beaches during this storm. It’s rare to see a Coast Guard press release with the words “please, please” in it; the USCG tends to be a bit dry in their communiques. But they thought it was important enough to beg.
In matters of public safety my opinions are anything but humble, so here it is: it was terribly irresponsible of the Oregonian to invite droves of people to come the the beach and die this week. But that’s what they did. I read the article. They mentioned a few cliff top spots. But some are just beach spots right at sea level. Not, not, a good idea this week. The thrill is momentary, the risk is high, and the grief for your loved ones could be huge. And many resources involving risk to other people will be deployed to try and find you when you’re already dead.
So, dear Ship Report listeners, and you are dear to me or I would not bother to post this rant: if you decide to go to the beach this week, go somewhere high: we have some great spots to wave watch that are high up: the Cape Disappointment visitor center at the park in Ilwaco, the cliffs in Cannon Beach, Ecola State Park. I’m sure there are many more. The point is – get some altitude above the waves so you can enjoy them. I don’t want to hear about anyone being swept away by a giant sneaker wave they didn’t see coming. But that’s why they call them sneakers, because they rise up out of nowhere, and they will be happening this week. A sneaker wave with a big log in it is a certain death wave.
I don’t presume to tell anyone how to live their life. I know some people will go to the beach, do stupid things and live. Lord knows I’ve done a lot of dumb things in my life and survived. But some may not. And when that happens, we will all say (too late) “they should have known better.”
So I just want to add my voice to those who are saying: if you go, stay up high on the cliffs, be careful, be mindful, don’t turn your back on the ocean. You know what I’m saying. Now it’s time to listen.
It may be selfish of me, but I don’t want to see your life snuffed out. I want you to be here so you can keep listening to The Ship Report. That’s all, Be careful out there. Thanks.
The opening of the commercial Dungeness crab season will be delayed until at least Dec. 31 along the entire Oregon coast. Testing shows crabs are still too low in meat yield in some areas. The ocean commercial Dungeness crab season in Oregon usually opens Dec. 1, but can be delayed. Crab quality testing in late November and early December showed that multiple areas within the Tri-State region still did not meet the criteria for an opening. The delayed opening will allow crabs to fill with more meat.
Testing will continue to determine if the season should open Dec. 31, be further delayed, or be split into two areas with different opening dates. Along with with the delayed ocean commercial season, commercial harvest of Dungeness crab in Oregon bays is now closed for the remainder of the year.
Due to elevated levels of domoic acid, crab closures are currently in effect from Cape Blanco to the California border. This closure applies to both recreationally and commercially harvested crab from bays and estuaries, and on beaches, docks, piers, and jetties. Recreational crab harvesting outside of these areas remains open in the ocean, bays and estuaries, and on beaches, docks, piers, and jetties.
Find the latest information on closures by calling the ODA shellfish safety information hotline at (800) 448-2474 or visiting the ODA shellfish closures web page at http://www.oregon.gov/ODA/programs/FoodSafety/Shellfish/Pages/ShellfishClosures.aspx
US Coast Guard Public Tours
If you’re looking for something fun to do on Friday, check out the US Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast at the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria.
The Steadfast, based in Astoria, is celebrating 50 years of maritime service by offering free public tours. That’s happening tomorrow – Friday, Dec. 7, 2018, from 10 am to 4 pm. You’ll find the Steadfast at the 17th Street dock in Astoria, by the Columbia River Maritime Museum.
The Steadfast is legendary for her role in drug interdiction. During her work in the Caribbean seizing illegal narcotics, Colombian drug traffickers nicknamed her “El Tiburon Blanco,” which means, “The White Shark.”
Take a tour and see what an active duty Coast Guard ship looks like inside!
Nestled in the heart of a major industrial area on the Columbia River waterfront at the busy Port of Vancouver, Washington, is a cozy haven for mariners that welcomes men and women from all around the world. The Seafarers Center has been operating for more than half a century, with help from local donors. Their welcoming house on site at the port is a cozy refuge where people can get off ships and take a break from the rigors of life at sea.
This week on the Ship Report I’m talking with Kent Williams – he’s the center’s executive director. He’ll share stories about what the center does to help mariners far from home, offering services like a ride to a store, a place to wire money home, a place to worship. or just a quiet place to reflect, far from the throb of diesel engines and the demands of constant work at sea.
I visited the center last weekend to give a talk about a trip I took on a cargo ship in 2010, my personal glimpse of life at sea. That’s where I talked with Kent Williams. The interview, and my visit to the center, reminded me how much we all depend on the fraction of the world’s population that makes their livelihood on the water. The world’s merchant seaman workforce is about 1.5 million people, a fraction of the world, or even the US, population. Those men and women, operating about 50,000 ships, bring us all our stuff. And that’s just the raw materials and manufactured goods. Factor in the world’s fishing fleet, which brings us much of our food, and you see a web of life in which we all depend upon each other.
In this season of gratitude and thanks, let’s give thanks to the mariners who pass silently and invisibly by our doors each day, on the mighty Columbia River and other waterways of the world.
Here’s a link to the story about the center and my talk, that appeared this week in the Columbian newspaper:
Center celebrates seafarers, brings holiday cheer
It’s fall, going on winter, on the coast, and I’m seeing reminders of how formidable our Pacific Northwest environment can be, not just in the increasingly difficult weather, but in how that weather affects people who work in our marine environment. Some of those reminders become causes for mourning.
Recently on the Ship Report, I talked with listeners about a tragic occurrence in the waters off Alaska, where a fishermen went overboard in Kotzebue Sound in the northwest part of the state. Conditions there were far from ideal, but typical: 5 foot seas, 20 knot winds, and water temperature around 43 degrees F. A crew member on a fishing boat went overboard. He was not wearing a life jacket.
The Coast Guard press release described it this way, in horrifying practical detail, as press releases often do, “He was last seen sinking below the water’s surface by crew aboard his fishing vessel Juda Lee.”
This incident reminds us in stark terms about what it takes to catch the fish we rejoice in eating here on the coast. The bulk of our locally caught fish is harvested by small crews on fishing boats who go out in horrific weather. Sometimes people die.
This fisherman likely never had a chance once he fell over the rail. While some might make the case that he should have been wearing a life jacket, fishermen often don’t, because of the risk that it might get caught on dangerous deck gear while they are working, and injure or kill them in that way. The job is fraught with potential catastrophic injury. But without flotation, it’s unlikely that a person could have stayed above water for more than a few minutes in water that cold. In rough conditions like those happening that day, it would be even harder to save a person, even one who did have on a PFD (personal flotation device).
In the aftermath of this tragedy, the result of a moment of awful luck, his crewmates are left with horrifying memories that will likely never leave them. A lost companion, snatched by an unforgiving sea.
So the next time you sit down to a fish dinner, give thanks to the fishermen (and women) who risked their lives to bring it to you. They go where the fish are, because that’s what it takes to catch them. They accept that risk as part of the job. It’s not a risk most of us are prepared to take.