Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 3:35 PM on Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Beached ship still on Spit; fuel pumped off

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer


Photo by Michael Armstrong

Onlookers watch as Homer Harbor workers run dewatering pumps on the Daniel D. Takak, left. The 70-foot landing craft beached on the Homer Spit about 9:45 a.m. last Thursday with the help of the Egavik, right.

A 70-foot landing craft and fishing tender that beached last Thursday on the Homer Spit near the Cannery Row Boardwalk after almost sinking 4 miles out remains on the Spit this week. After a small fuel spill late Thursday, all fuel has been pumped out of the Daniel D. Takak and the ship moved to the east side at the beach near Pier One Theatre.

"We wanted to get it off that beach," Homer Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins said of moving the ship. "We wanted to get it some place safe."

Crews mopped up the fuel spill on the Spit, Hawkins said. He called it a "burp" when fuel came out of vents. The U.S. Coast Guard didn't know how big the spill was, said Lt. Sarah Geoffrion of Marine Safety Detachment Homer. Oil prevention booms had been placed around the Takak.

The ship's owner, Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation, is looking at options for getting the Takak off the beach and repaired in Homer, said Tyler Rhodes, NSEDC communications director.

"First and foremost is everybody's safe," he said. "That's priority one and we'll address the rest as it comes."

Hawkins said the Takak could be hauled out on cylindrical airbags at the Homer Marine Terminal on the Spit. Cylindrical airbags are bags inflated under a ship that then act as rollers to move ships out of water. "If it can be hauled out, the marine trades side of the operation is saying, 'We'll fix it,'" Hawkins said.

The saga of the Takak began early June 13 about 100 miles south of Cordova when it started taking on water. The Takak and another NSEDC ship, the Egavik, had been sailing from Port Townsend, Wash., where the Takak had been refurbished.

A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Kodiak and a HC-130 Hercules airplane crew responded, according to a Coast Guard press release. The Coast Guard dropped dewatering pumps and a rescue swimmer went to the boat to help. Crew on the Egavik also responded.

The Coast Guard praised the Takak's crew for keeping the incident from becoming worse.

"The Takak crew did everything right in a situation like this. That had proper survival gear on board and activated their electronic position indicating radio beacon so the Coast Guard could quickly find them," said OS1 James Fangman of Coast Guard District 17.

The Takak and Egavik crews got the Takak pumped out and patched the hole in the hull. With the Takak's engines running, both ships then made their way to Homer.

Hawkins said they didn't know why the Takak came to Homer when it could have gone to closer ports like Seward, which has a 200-ton lift.

"It doesn't seem sound that you would drive past a facility that could lift that boat out to get here," Hawkins said.

Rhodes said Capt. Greg Alexander of the Takak made the decision to head to Homer because the weather was more favorable heading in this direction. Until the Takak was near Homer, the pumps had been working, Rhodes said. The original destination had been Homer, where supplies were waiting. Alexander has 30 years experience as a mariner, he said.

"He felt it was best for the boat, the crew to continue where the weather was favorable," Rhodes said. "In the end everyone saved the boat and it's not on the bottom of the ocean. We applaud him and are happy he's part of our team."

The Homer Harbor office had been following the Takak's progress since about 7 a.m. Thursday. The initial plan was for Capt. Alexander to land the Takak on the beach by Pier One Theater. Crews would assess the damage, make a better patch and then go dry on the steel grid in the harbor.

"Harbormasters are really cautious about bringing sinking boats into their harbor," Hawkins said. "That was our plan."

About 4 miles off the Spit, however, the Takak lost power and started taking on water faster.

"It went from 'pumps are working' to 'we're sinking,'" Hawkins said.

Deputy harbormaster Matt Clarke went out in his own boat, a Boston Whaler, with more pumps. The Bay Link, a Homer Ocean Charters water taxi, also took a pump out, and the Blackfish, of Ashore Water Taxi, stood by. The Takak was rafted up to the Egavik, which helped push it to shore.

"It was just a fight. The water was already on deck then. It had breached the coaming and running into the galley," Hawkins said. "The engine was flooded."

From the beach, onlookers could see that the Takak had listed toward the starboard stern. Dave Lyon on the Blackfish said when he first arrived the Takak's name on the stern was above water, but by the time it got to the beach had gone under.

"I told them to come straight for the beach," Hawkins said. "Take the first beach you can reach."

Alexander saw the Salty Dawg Saloon and decided to head straight for it.

"I figured that would be a good place for me to land," Alexander could be heard saying on the VHF radio. "I'm going to need a drink after this."

Both ships grounded in low water off the beach. By 5 p.m. Thursday the tide had gone out, with the Takak's bow on the beach and the stern in water. Thursday and Friday, crews fought to get the Takak patched and pumped out. Even with five gas pumps working, the flow of water coming in couldn't be stopped, Hawkins said. Bulldozers pulled the Takak higher up the beach. Divers assessed the condition of the stern bottom. Hawkins said seams were cracked and there was a 16-in-square hole above the port propeller.

"The worst I've ever seen," Hawkins said of the damage. "It kind of rattled. Once it started, it got worse and worse."

Eventually, welders got the holes patched enough to float the Takak and bring it around to the Pier One Theatre beach. Hawkins helped move the Takak with the harbor tug. Hawkins said NSEDC will be billed under the harbor's tariff schedule for work done by harbor crew. NSEDC also eventually hired locals to assist.

One issue on Hawkins' mind while he and other harbor officers worked on the Takak was keeping the harbor running.

"You can't get tunnel vision on one thing," he said.

That proved to be the case when last Thursday afternoon a 28-foot K-Bay boat owned by True North Kayak Adventures took on water in the harbor. Harbor crews got a pump on the boat and kept it afloat long enough to haul out on a trailer at the load launch ramp. Sheds at the end of each ramp hold a 2-inch gas powered pump, with eight pumps available in the harbor.

Two ships also spilled fuel into the harbor earlier last week on Tuesday, spreading a large sheen over the harbor. Both boat owners worked to clean up the spill. Hawkins said one boat owner may be cited for discharging fuel while cleaning the boat. The other spill appeared to be an accident when a fuel line broke. Hawkins declined to name the boats.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.