Port Angeles man tells of surviving sinking of his boat
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Ray Dodge's boat floats low in the water before sinking 20 miles off Cape Alava on Tuesday. -- Photo courtesy of Ray Dodge

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES -- Jay Dodge keeps things in perspective as he recounts a harrowing experience he had at sea just 48 hours earlier.

Dodge and his friend, Scott Havel, were nearly 20 miles off Cape Alava navigating 12-foot swells on Tuesday when they noticed that Dodge's 34-foot wooden fishing boat, the Moonbeam, was taking on water from its stern -- and fast.

"I was a little nervous," said Dodge, who was later rescued with Havel by the Coast Guard.

"It was different."

Dodge sent a mayday signal and quickly abandoned ship. He and Havel watched helplessly from a nine-foot Zodiak life raft as the Moonbeam submerged and sank 600 feet to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

"It happened real fast," said Dodge, who had invested more than $30,000 into the Moonbeam so he could move to Alaska.

"I was shell-shocked. It's like waking up to find your house on fire."

Despite the financial loss and a two-year setback for his pilgrimage to Alaska, Dodge is philosophical.

No one got hurt on Tuesday, so Dodge can laugh at himself and the adventure.

"I'll recover," Dodge said.

Dodge and Havel left Port Angeles Harbor at 6:20 p.m. on Monday and reached Cape Flattery at 3:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

They were setting sail for a fishing hole about 45 miles offshore. Tuna was on the menu.

"We didn't even get a hook in the water," Dodge joked.

With the seas kicking up about 40 miles off shore, Dodge made the decision to turn around. They had devised a Plan B -- to troll for salmon in the relatively calm waters off Neah Bay.

The Moonbeam, however, didn't make it back.

Dodge said his boat was accidently struck by a larger vessel about two months ago. He believed that impact led to the eventual demise of the Moonbeam.

He speculates that wooden planks near the back of his boat were damaged then, and that those planks came loose in the rough seas on Tuesday.

When they discovered they were taking on water, the fishermen activated the Moonbeam's two bilge pumps and bailed water with buckets.

They were standing waste-deep in the fish hole as the stern began to dip.

"I have a lot of experience on boats," said Dodge, who has worked as a commercial fisherman for four years and a commercial diver for eight years prior to that.

"I knew it was time."

He grabbed receipts from some of the expensive electronic equipment on the boat. Dodge and Havel donned life jackets, took their survival suits and launched the life raft.

Ship sinks

The Moonbeam was gone about five minutes later.

"The Navy plane happened to be close by when we called," said Dodge, referring to the P3 Orion that located the fishermen.

The Navy planed circled the wreckage as an HH-65C Dolphin helicopter crew from Coast Guard Group/Air Station Port Angeles made its way to the scene.

"You're just a speck out there in the water," said Dodge, who had relayed his coordinates before the Moonbeam went down.

"I didn't see any other boats out there."

Coast Guard Station Quillayute River, located in LaPush, and Coast Guard Station Neah Bay each launched a 47-foot motor lifeboat crew.

The Coast Guard took the men to LaPush on a lifeboat.

Dodge, a former skeptic of the Coast Guard, said the crew that rescued him and his friend were "super nice" on Tuesday.

The Moonbeam's 150-gallon diesel tank had about 60 gallons remaining. There was no visible pollution where the boat went under, the Coast Guard said.

Dodge said there was "not a drop of oil" on the surface.

As for what's next, Dodge says he'll drop off some supplies at his storage unit on Lopez Island and go fly fishing on the inland rivers of Idaho and Montana.

He has friends he can stay with in Seattle, but Dodge said: "I'm not a Seattle kind of person."

Eventually, Dodge wants to return to the open ocean -- on a boat that doesn't leak.

________

Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-417-3537 or at rob.ollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: September 18. 2009 12:27AM
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