PORT HADLOCK — When a minor squall line with rain ran across the North Olympic Peninsula, Capt. Roger Slade had a busy day.
Slade, who runs TowBoatUS, once known as Vessel Assist, in Port Hadlock spent much of his Friday chasing down boats that came off their moorings during the storm that broke at about daybreak that day. He counted at least five or six that came off their moorings in the Port Townsend area that had to be towed to safety.
For those not in the boating community, TowBoatUS is much like AAA for the boating community. The company provides tows and a variety of services to members of the Boat Owners Association of the United States, or BoatUS. It also tows boats of nonmembers, who pay the company directly.
By Friday afternoon, Slade said his boats were “kind of stood down” because he could not reach the owners of boats that were loose and headed toward beaches and rocks.
Early autumn can be a busy time, Slade said. “A lot of these boats, the owners put them on anchor and leave them,” he said.
With expenses to cover, Slade doesn’t provide his services for free, however.
“We can’t afford to pick them up anymore unless someone’s paying for it,” he said.
Among the lost and drifting Friday afternoon were a 25- or 30-foot sailboat heading toward the Port Townsend Paper Corp. mill, he said, and one or two others whose owners could not be reached.
“We took one off the beach this morning,” he said, owned by a BoatUS member from Port Hadlock.
Slade remembered a storm in October 2015 that caused about six boats to come loose in the Port Townsend area.
“Now is the time to watch your boat if you’re going to keep it on a mooring or an anchor,” he said.
Many of the calls to TowBoatUS come not only from members but the U.S. Coast Guard.
While Port Townsend has a Coast Guard station, said Slade, its personnel “don’t really respond to non-distress calls.”
The Port Townsend station’s primary mission is escorting submarines and other vessels.
Quite often, Slade finds his company working in coordination with East Jefferson Fire-Rescue.
The fire department was dispatched for two marine-related calls Friday, said Bill Beezley, department spokesman.
One call was for a boat dragging its anchor and a second for a vessel in unknown distress. Both declined help.
“We get about 10 or 12 water rescues a year,” Beezley said.
Most are for kayaks that have drifted out into shipping lanes or vessels in unspecified distress.
The fire company operates one boat, a 33-foot fire and rescue vessel named Guardian acquired via a federal Homeland Security grant several years ago.
TowBoatUS has about 20 boats through five operators that provide assistance from the Shelton area of Hood Canal up to the Salish Sea and Canadian border.
“Kind of like a mini-Coast Guard,” Slade said.
Assistant Managing Editor Mark Swanson can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55450, or firstname.lastname@example.org.