Story last updated at 4:13 p.m. Thursday, July 25, 2002

Harbor mishap damages boat
by Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer

photo: news
  Photo courtesy state Department of Fish and Game
The state Department of Fish and Game research vesel Pandalus is shown on a recent mission.  
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game research vessel Pandalus wound up doing time atop the steel grid for inspection and repair work earlier this month following a collision with a submerged piling in the Homer small boat harbor.

Fish and Game skipper Mark Hottmann said the 65-foot Pandalus was backing out of its slip on July 8 with approximately a zero-foot low tide running when it struck something within its slip.

The Pandalus notified the harbormaster's office by radio and headed out to conduct a trawl survey of tanner crab in Kachemak Bay.

As the crew prepared to set its first net, Hottmann discovered that his sonar system, which had just been upgraded over the winter, had been disabled when the retractable sounding dome took a hit in the collision. Hottmann also noticed a vibration when the research vessel would crank up to a cruising rpm range.

After learning of the incident, Harbormaster Bill Abbott contracted marine diver Cecil Cheatwood of C and C Aquatics to investigate.

Cheatwood located an old piling that was sticking roughly three feet above the muddy bottom, despite what he said was minimal visibility in the harbor's water. As he poked around in the darkness, he found two other piling stubs in the area.

Abbott said the pilings had probably been cut off on a level with the harbor's bottom and were the remainder of a support from a previous docking structure dating back before the current float system was installed.

Over time, wave action and the propeller wash from untold numbers of vessels had likely uncovered the remnant structures, Abbott said.

He added that the pilings had never been a problem in years past because they'd most likely been covered by the existing dock fingers.

However, last winter's overhaul of the E, F, G, H and J floats expanded the size of some slips, putting the new fingers off line from the remnant pilings, Abbott said.

Cheatwood said he guessed the old pilings had been broken or damaged in a collision.

Hottmann said the Harbormaster's office offered the Pandalus free use of the harbor's grid.

But, unwilling to delay his survey, Hottmann kept the Pandalus to task before finally putting it up on the grid on July 15, where inspection revealed damage to a fluke on one of the boat's four-bladed propellers. The sonar sounding dome was removed at that time. It was replaced on Friday in Seward, where the Pandalus was lifted out of the water in slings.

As far as who is responsible for the damage, Abbott said unequivocally that the harbor holds no liability. Abbott said that all operators who lease space in the harbor sign off on an agreement that releases the harbor and the City of Homer from liability in cases of damage, unless there is a case of negligence.

Carey Meyer, the city's Public Works director, said as far as he knew, the question of responsibility has yet to be determined in the case of the Pandalus.

James Brady, the Fish and Game regional supervisor, said he was most concerned with the lost charter time for the vessel.

"My first objective is to get our vessel operational and back in the water," he said. "The real shame is that we just had the boat in dry dock this spring, and things were trued up and running smoothly."

Brady said the department is currently discussing the issue with the city and the harbormaster's office about the incident. All of the receipts for repairs will go to the state's Division of Risk Management in Juneau, and the ultimate decision on how those costs are dealt with will likely start in that office, Brady said.

Due to the Pandalus' busy schedule, the propeller won't likely be fixed until the fall. For the short term, Brady said, the vibrations caused by the propeller damage don't pose the vessel any real problems.

Crew members aboard the Pandalus, meanwhile, completed the business of surveying the bay's shellfish and then headed off to Seward, where they were set to launch an extended groundfish survey in the Gulf of Alaska.

Each summer, Fish and Game performs a trawl survey in Kachemak Bay that helps biologists monitor tanner crab stocks to determine if their levels will support Cook Inlet's annual personal-use fishery. The results of the Pandalus' crab survey had not been released as of Tuesday.