By SUSAN SCHELL
Pilot Staff Writer
The two-man crew of a pleasure fishing vessel ran aground near the Best Western Beachfront Inn in the Port of Brookings Harbor Sunday afternoon.
It took a community effort to free the boat and haul it back to sea.
The crew members and owners of the boat, Richard Davis and Dennis Rochholz of Merlin, were unharmed, but the 26-foot vessel spent the night on the beach.
Rochholz said they were pulling in some recreational crab pots when they were hit by a surprise set of waves that picked up the boat and sent it reeling toward the shore.
"We were pulling in pots when we saw one sitting a little close (to shore). The sea was really flat so we said, let's go get it,' when a set of sneaker waves hit us. Three of them; the second hit was the worst.
"I was on the stern. The boat was ready to roll, but then it turned and headed in. It all happened pretty fast. I didn't even have a chance to get a life jacket on.
"He (Davis) was able to get off the bridge and I jumped out of the boat," Rochholz continued. "It hurled us in quicker than you would believe."
The speed with which the boat was lifted to shore probably spared the fishermen's lives. When Rochholz jumped overboard, he landed in knee-deep water.
"We're lucky we didn't get tossed out of the boat out there," he said. "That's the most seaworthy boat I've ever seen. It should've tipped over out there."
The Coast Guard responded, but My Mistress was beached when they arrived. Davis said, "It was already a done deal."
The fishermen secured the boat to a tree with a rope and waited for high tide the following day to try to pull the boat back out to sea.
If the ocean's condition during the mishap was anything like it was Monday, it was easy to see how the accident happened. The sea's notorious split personality was on stark display that day. For long stretches of time, the water's surface was flat as a board. Then suddenly, huge waves would appear out of nowhere and pound the shore in a fit of rage.
This would go on for nearly 20 minutes, then the tide would sink back into a deceiving slumber. The gorgeous, sunny sky also played a part in luring unwary boaters out into the ocean's saltwater schizophrenia.
Davis, a regular visitor to the port, called on his friend Larry Nichols to help him out of his predicament.
On Monday Nichols, a professional fisherman and owner of Scampi's Fish Wagon, motored out to the site in his 22-foot Boston Whaler, the Scampi. The first attempt to hook Nichols' boat to the stranded vessel failed. Wearing a survival suit, Davis tried to swim out to Nichols' boat and grab the line, but the cumbersome suit and rough sea made the task impossible.
The frustrated fishermen pondered their next move. As the water crept up the beach, My Mistress was pummeled by the surf. Davis grabbed onto the securing line and tried to keep the boat pointed seaward so it would not roll sideways. Onlookers offered their assistance by grabbing hold of the rope.
Davis thought he might have to get a tractor to drive out on the sand and retrieve the boat. In the meantime, Nichols was approached by his friend Marc Fenton who knew a surfer that could paddle out and attach a line between the two boats.
Nichols and Fenton drove back out and parked the Scampi about 600 feet from shore. The surfer grabbed the end of a spool of quarter-inch rope, took off from the Scampi and paddled toward shore. When he reached the beach, the crowd grabbed the line and helped attach it to the 1-inch rope on My Mistress.
"The people on the beach helped hook up the boat," Nichols said. "We waited until the water lifted the boat, I set the throttle wide open and off I went."
Two of Nichols' fellow fishermen, Ron Clinger and Joe Spears, followed the Scampi in a survival boat to be on hand in case anything happened. As My Mistress was being towed in, she began to take on water.
"The outdrive was busted and started to leak," Nichols said. "Joe Spears got on board and shortened the line to get it under tow. It was a hell of a job."
As soon as the team got the crippled vessel to port, they immediately had it loaded onto a tractor trailer and hauled away.
Davis said Tuesday there was no damage to the hull. The outdrive was broken, but "fixable."
About his ordeal, Davis simply said, "I'm relaxed, but sore."