Chapter 2

Misfortune and Heroics at Sea

The weather at Ferndale, near Bellingham on northern Puget Sound, was typical for winter, gray beneath a cloudy sky, when the Sause Brothers tug Ocean Service left the BP (British Petroleum) refinery towing the loaded barge Nestucca at 1335 hours (l:35 p.m.) December 21, 1988 (2-1).

The Ocean Service is a twin screw, diesel-powered vessel of 3,800 horsepower, 121.l feet long, 193 gross tons. Her tow, the tank barge Nestucca, 5,339 net tons, is 301.8 feet long, 90 feet wide and 21.4 feet deep. The Nestucca carried in her single-skin steel hull 70,000 barrels--2,940,000 gallons--of Bunker C fuel oil destined for Aberdeen and Portland. The barge's draft forward was about 17 feet 4 inches and 18 feet aft, according to the Coast Guard report.

Tug and barge are connected by 2,600 feet of wire rope (cable) 2 1/4 inches in diameter, which in normal towing conditions is--except for about 200 feet retained on the tug's winch drum--stretched in a hanging arc in the water between the two vessels. That towing length is shortened to about 1,500 feet or less in narrow or restricted waters. The towing cable connects to a chain pigtail of 45 feet, another 45 feet of surge chain and twin 60-foot chain bridles attached to the forward corners of the barge. (see diagram 1-1, page __)

There had been a little drizzle the day before, but this was between weather fronts, and Puget Sound is partially protected from the storms that march in succession across the North Pacific during winter, thanks to the mountains on Vancouver Island and on the Olympic Peninsula. Another front was moving in, however, and after the Ocean Service traveled westward out Juan de Fuca Strait, Captain Charles E. May III was forced to reduce speed as they slogged south along the Washington coast after making the left turn around Cape Flattery and Tatoosh Island (see map 2-1, page __).

Captain May said in his later deposition to the attorneys (2-2), "The weather had picked up and it was kind of nasty, and then it was laying down, the weather come down in good shape. We were down on turns for awhile on that voyage, I believe, and, like I say, the weather kept getting better, the wind quit blowing and at the tail end of the voyage we were up to full turns."

One should explain a couple of terms here. By "laying down" the skipper refers in particular to the rolling ocean swells and any overriding smaller waves or wind chop. And by "turns" he is referring to the engine revolutions powering the tug's twin propellers.

Had the entire voyage been at or near the possible maximum speed of about eight knots--nine miles per hour-- the Ocean Service would have approached the Grays Harbor entrance sometime in the afternoon. But as it worked out, the approach was near midnight Dec. 22, which was also close to flood (high) tide, the necessary condition for crossing a bar with a loaded tow.

And the Grays Harbor bar is among the most notorious along the Pacific Coast for mariners, perhaps second only to the bar at the entrance to the Columbia River for the manner in which the seas can rise up--literally--to endanger any vessel. Sneaker waves, as they are known, can be as high as 40 feet--that's 12 meters. Once, during the 1960s, the Coast Guard motor lifeboat Invincible went out after a commercial crab boat that had been swamped off Westport, and the Invincible herself was rolled and immobilized overnight before she could be towed back to port. Mariners have a healthy respect for bar conditions there. During January of 1993 a successor Invincible also rolled off Westport, according to a news report.

In addition to Captain May, who had been with Sause Brothers Ocean Towing Company of Coos Bay, Oregon, since 1969, crewmen of the Ocean Service that trip were Gary Thomas Rickey, mate; Jack A. Wilson, engineer; Curtis Lee Bartley, deckhand and assistant engineer (a nephew of the skipper), and Cecil Johnson, cook. The crew of a tug usually is on duty for about a month, then is replaced by a second Sause crew. Junior crewmembers may serve longer.

Son of a towboat skipper, May was graduated from high school in his hometown of Crescent City, California, and spent three years aboard commercial fishing vessels working coastal waters. He spent three winter months in the woods as a choker setter on a logging crew, then decided "there might be bigger, better things," so he signed on with Sause Brothers in May of 1969. In the ensuing 20 years he worked every towboat job, moving up to master in a couple of years, and has been to the South Pacific, Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. He had skippered the Ocean Service since its acquisition by Sause in 1985 (See diagram 2-2, page __).
Jack Wilson, chief engineer, age 42, had joined the U.S. Navy after high school, served six years and then worked for another towboat firm five years before signing with Sause Brothers Ocean Towing in l978. He was licensed as an engineer in 1983, and had a year aboard the Ocean Service before December of 1988.

Gary Rickey, the mate, age 32 at the time, had worked on commercial fish boats off Nova Scotia as a youth. After two years of college in Massachusetts, he married and moved to Oregon to take up fishing. He left it for two years working towboats in Alaska, then started with Sause in November of 1988, less than two months before this incident.

Bartley had attended welding school and worked as a welder and ranch hand in California, then six years as a logger before taking the job with Sause in November. This was only his second trip as deckhand and engineroom assistant.

The cook on a tug usually is not involved in affairs outside the galley, but Cecil Johnson was pressed into helping rig the Orville hook when Rickey and Bartley were on the barge.

Captain May recounted later for the U.S. Coast Guard and also at his deposition that he normally turned in toward Grays Harbor from about the 60-fathom line, which he had followed from Cape Flattery, at a point slightly south of the Point Chehalis Range. This line on the marine chart (see map 2-2, page __) is slightly north of west (253 degrees magnetic) from the Group Grays Harbor Coast Guard station at Westport and parallel with the south jetty. It almost lines up with Buoy 3.

Had he been coming from the south, Captain May would have made the turn at buoy GH, the sea buoy, about 3 miles further south. But from the north he turned at buoy 3, saving about six miles of travel, and this later caused some criticism in a Seattle Post-Intelligencer newsstory (2-3). Reporter James Wallace quoted a Grays Harbor pilot as saying "You don't go that way, not in that kind of weather, especially when you are towing an oil barge. You go down to the sea buoy."

But Lt. Mike Emge, the Coast Guard investigating officer, discounted criticism from Grays Harbor pilots, suggesting that since they would like to have one of their own guiding tugs in and out, any second guessing "should be taken with a grain of salt," according to the P-I story.

Harbor pilots are required on foreign-registered commercial vessels in state waters, and on oil tankers over 50,000 tons, but are not required for tugs hauling barges. Capt. Raymond Freel of the tug Janet R told Lieutenant Emge he had noticed little or no difference between the two routes earlier..

The story by the P-I reporter was complimentary, suggesting that the skipper and crewmen of the Ocean Service deserved praise for their heroics in preventing total loss of the Nestucca and eruption of its entire cargo of nearly 3 million gallons of fuel oil compared with the actual spill of less than 1/4 million gallons. That was bad enough, of course, and nearly equivalent to the 1985 Arco Anchorage spill at Port Angeles.

But we're getting ahead of events. Captain May was asked at his deposition hearing to recall the details as he remembered them from the approach to Grays Harbor that night.

He described first how he makes a turn in small pieces, so as to nudge the towed barge a little at a time toward the new direction, such as around the seaward buoy where he set his course toward Westport. As to weather and sea conditions, Captain May said:

"I think, you know, like an eight-foot swell, six to eight- foot swell, fairly stretched out swell, not a sharp swell. No wind, the wind had died off."

Q--"When you say a stretched-out swell, not a sharp swell, what do you mean?"

A--"I mean a long, lazy swell, not close together, steep. No wind chop on top of them."

Q--"No white water at the top of the swell?"

A--"None whatsoever."

From the Coast Guard report, one can point out a seeming discrepancy, based on the record from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography wave rider buoy near the GH sea buoy. That record showed wave heights of l3 feet at ll:25 p.m. Dec. 22, as an average of the preceding 30 minutes, with "probably no diminution in wave energies at the buoy 5 area."

And it was between buoy 3 and buoy 5 that the towline broke, leaving the barge adrift. Lieutenant Emge's USCG report says "the towing hawser parted...somewhere between the winch drum and the tug's fairlead roller."

Captain Freel, on the tug Janet R had towed an empty wood chip barge into Grays Harbor shortly before, and told Lieutenant Emge he had encountered mostly 10-foot swells coming in from the southwest, with an occasional 16-foot breaking swell inside buoy 6, close to the bar. Obviously there had been some diminution from the sea buoy shoreward.

But the Ocean Service and Nestucca did not get that far. And the crew's testimony was in agreement that there was no advance warning of the cable break. Captain May, speaking at his deposition hearing relative to shortening the towing cable, said he might have taken in more cable and "may have waited in the vicinity of buoy five outbound clear the bar. I wouldn't have met him on the bar. ...I would have picked it up fairly short there and maybe circled or waited for him or whatever it takes."

Q--"If there was no ship traffic you would have gone over the bar with the wire at 1,500 feet?"

A--"I may have, I don't know. I would have to get into the bar and look at the conditions."

Q--"In this instance, did you ever get into the bar?"

A--"I never did get in that far."

Q--" would you describe the parting of the wire? What happened?

A--"The boat kind of took a heave on a swell, I was turned to pull south, probably in a southeasterly direction, and I wanted to get down a little lower on the ranges. But when I was kind of turned into the swell and the boat took a pretty good heavy swell, and at the time that it parted it took a pretty good heave on a swell. When it came back, that's when the wire parted. I could hear it, I heard it by sound."

Q--"What kind of sound did it make?"

A--"A loud popping sound."

The tug's engineer, Jack Wilson, had a different recollec- tion at his deposition. "It was more like a thump.... It was like somebody hitting the side of the boat with a sledgehammer."

About five minutes before the tow cable snapped, Captain May had taken in some 1,000 feet of the tow wire in order to shorten the Nestucca's leash for the bar crossing. May also was anticipating the outbound freighter Southern Star, which was leaving Grays Harbor with a partial load of logs under the command of harbor pilot Mel Flavel. The Southern Star, however, was at that time just below Hoquiam, further from the bar than was the Ocean Service, so Captain May probably would have been able to get inside the bar before Captain Flavel with the log ship approached. It didn't happen, because of the break in the towline. Captain Flavel later relayed a radio request for a tug from Hoquiam to take over the empty chip barge Baranof from the Janet R so Captain Freel could head back out over the bar to help the Ocean Service.

Jim Wallace's Post-Intelligencer story quoted Captain Flavell's evaluation of events that night: "When the chips were down, they went in and got that barge out. It was very rough and very, very, very dangerous. Once they lost that barge, these people were heroic in" After the towline parted, "Things began to happen pretty fast," as one crewman said at the deposition hearing.

Captain May: "Right after I heard the pop of the tow wire, I went back to see what it was for sure, if the wire broke or the brake had slipped or what. I got back to the back deck and the tow wire is broke, so immediately I went back to the wheelhouse and told the crew, and the chief engineer was sent directly to the engine room to start rigging the Orville hook. The mate and assistant went with me to the back deck to get the nylon out of the box where it was stored, the nylon retrieving line."

Q--"Did you tell the crew in the wheelhouse that you were going to use the Orville hook?"

A--"Yes, I did."

Q--"And who all was there in the wheelhouse when you gave these instructions?"

A--"Jack Wilson, Gary Rickey and Curt Bartley."

Q--"Where was the hook?"

A--"Mounted on a bulkhead in the fiddley above the engine room next to the starboard hatch."

Q--"And how long did you expect it was going to take to deploy the Orville hook?"

A--"Twenty to 30 minutes you should have the Orville hook deployed."

Q--"What...steps would you instruct the crew to deploy the Orville Hook?"

A--"I wouldn't have to...tell them how to rig it, because they know how.... They would rig it."

Q--"...How do you rig the Orville Hook?"

A--"It (the Orville Hook) has two wire straps approximately three feet long shackled one to each side of it. From those you shackle--those straps have eyes in them--you shackle a shackle to that with a line going to the buoy, the flotation device, however deep you want to set the hook. Then attach your nylon line to it also with a shackle, it's a rubber shiv with a pin through it."

Q--"When you say a 'nylon line' what line are you referring to?"

A--"Our nylon retrieving line,...300 feet, six-inch nylon."

Q--"It would take 20 to 30 minutes to get that accomplished and get it in the water?"


Q--"Are you trying to hook the bridle or are you trying to hook the wire?"

A--"You hook the bridle."

Q--"You are actually after the bridle that hangs into the sea behind the fish plate?"

A--"Not necessarily behind the fish plate, depends on how shallow the water you are in...."

Q--"you are trying to hit chain?"

A--"Right, we want the chain, we don't want the wire."

Q--"You are going to be setting the Orville Hook to get below the fish plate, that's what you prefer?"

A--"Not really. Bridle chain, whatever is handy, it depends on the situation."

Now take a moment to look at the drawing of the Orville hook (diagram 2-3, page __), a device invented by a onetime Coast Guardsman and longtime Sause employee, Orville (Bud) Fuller, during the 1960s. Patented by the company, it was installed on all the company tugs for use in emergencies such as now faced Captain May and the crew of the Ocean Service.

As Fuller recalled for his deposition hearing in November, 1990: "Well, we'd had trouble picking up barges,...I'd have to follow a barge around for several days sometimes to catch it and wait for the weather to lay down or one thing or another, and then you'd have to get somebody aboard the barge, so that entailed pretty good weather before you could try something like that. So we were kicking around different ideas and I come up with this one particular one. We had a fellow out here by the name of Bruce Eddy that'd followed a barge around somewhere between here and Honolulu for almost a week, and he couldn't do anything with it, so we were sitting in the office talking to the boss about it and I says, I said I could probably pick that up in about an hour. Or less. Maybe even a half an hour, if I was out there. So he wanted to know why and how, so I drew a picture of it, the hook, and he said 'By gosh that might work,' so he had me build one."

Q--"When you say the boss, who are you referring to?"

A--"Curt Sause."

Q--"So you were talking about this with Curt Sause shortly after one of the Sause Brothers captains had spent a week chasing a barge near Hawaii?"

A--That's right. We'd had trouble before picking them up and several ideas on how to pick one that. Previously we'd lost a chip box (a barge with a large boxed enclosure for hauling chips to be made into chipboard or paper pulp) and it went up the coast oh, overnight from Bandon to Cedar Head Lighthouse dragging all its tow wire, and we had an awful time picking that up. I gave my deed off the tow line (turned over the towing job) to another tug and we got in behind the barge and dropped wire and went around each side of it and picked up the bridle, but we couldn't hold the damn thing after we got it aboard. So I looked at that chain and I thought, by gosh, there's a way to hook that chain. So that's how it came about."

Fuller also commented on insurance wires, the old way of trying to recover a loose barge. An insurance wire is a cable strung from a front corner of a barge back along the side or over the top, with a line and buoy trailing in the water behind. But it did not function well, often getting tangled or otherwise hung up. "...And once you get ahold of them with an insurance wire, why usually you have to jerk the wire off the top of the barge and then, then you've got it by a corner and you can't really pull on it because then you've got, all you've got for cushion is what nylon you have, you know, hooked onto it. And whenever you lose a've got real tough weather, usually. So you just kind of have to drift along and hurry it along until you get close to a port somewhere and then you have to have somebody else come out and get ahold of the other corner (of the barge) so you can bring it in. Otherwise the damn thing will try to pass you on one side and then it'll come around and pass you on the other sid e. And then you can't really pull on it, either. So you have to have pretty damn good weather to get it across the bar, you know. So with the hook, why you've got a, you've got the bridle on there for a cushion again. You know, that was the reason why we had the hook."

Now you have from the source, "Bud" Fuller, how he came to construct the salvage hook that was named for him. One additional observation from Dale Sause was that the Orville hook has never failed in his experience, and that other towing companies call on Sause to recover loose barges when their own efforts fail.

So now we can return to that black night off the Grays Harbor bar, and with Captain May aboard the tug Ocean Service peer--at least in imagination--into the dark off to the northeast. Captain May can see lights along the beach from homes and businesses on the Ocean Shores Peninsula, but he can also see something more ominous--white breakers between his position and the shore, marking dangerous shallow water not far beyond buoy 5 toward which the barge was drifting.

Q--"Then what happened?"

A--"As we were getting the thing ready, the rate the barge was travelling looked to me as though I wouldn't have time to deploy the Orville hook."

Q--"Why were you concerned about the barge?"

A--"Because it was drifting towards the north jetty. ...The barge was approaching buoy five. North of buoy five is shallow water, I could look over there and see breakers...constantly in that shallow water. It's a dark night, I can't tell exactly how far it is. The way that barge was traveling it looked like we had no time. If it got into the breakers, it was goodbye barge. We wouldn't have had a chance to retrieve it, any way of retrieving it. ...The barge never did stop drifting."

Q--"You mean it never stopped drifting prior to the time you recaptured her? Didn't all that tow wire drop to the floor of the ocean there and..."

A--"Correct. It slowed the drift considerably. As we were in here the swells started picking up also. Near buoy 5. The swell started to rise and wind started to pick up at that time in there around buoy five. And with even that much.... We anchor barges all the time on tow wire in flat calm weather in harbors in shallow water, no problem. With a loaded barge and the swell working against it all the time, the tow wire is not going to stop the barge completely, it is going to keep going."

Q--"Do you feel, even with all that tow wire in effect acting like an anchor, that there was a serious risk of the barge..."

A--"Very serious risk of it drifting. I can see breakers... like I say. Would be west of the north jetty. If the barge reached those breakers the whole barge would have been in on the beach."

Q--"What did you decide to do then?"

A--"When it looked to me as though we weren't going to have time to deploy that Orville hook, I told them, 'Hey, guys, get your life jackets, I am going to put you aboard the barge, we are going to have to grab it with a nylon.'"

Q--"Who did you tell to get their life jackets on?"

A--"Curt Bartley and Gary Rickey."

Q--"What happened then?"

A--"I gave Gary Rickey a radio, VHF radio, told him what channel I would be on so we could stay in contact. And we had the line right there ready to pass. I went (maneuvered the tug, that is) over to the barge, laid there and watched it for a little bit and swells were not that bad. I figured, 'Hey, this is going to be a piece of cake, no problem. I am going to pull over there...' The decks were awash naturally because it was a loaded oil barge, there wasn't very much freeboard. So when I put the men aboard... I wanted to put them on as close as possible to the bow shield on the Nestucca (See photo 2-1, page __).

"Bow shield is four foot high, kind of runs...around the bow to the port and starboard sides. Pretty good protection from the swells that come aboard. I backed in toward that on the...port quarter of the tug, and they could...stand up on the stern deck which was pretty well matched up...with the barge.

"I pulled in there and a swell kind of banged me into the barge. I told them 'Don't jump, I will get a better position.'I wanted to make sure that the men get aboard safely. I pulled out away from the barge a scat, a little bit, laid there and watched it again and (it) looked good. I backed in there and at that time they jumped. I was back up against the barge. As soon as they were aboard the barge a swell picked me up and set me kind of down on the barge on the port quarter of the stern. I was going full ahead, but it set me back into her anyway. Evidently, as far as I know, that is probably when the barge was holed."

Q--"So you hit the barge twice?

A--"On both times. You can't get next to a barge in weather like that without...banging it a little bit."

For a different viewpoint, with some variation in details from the way the skipper remembered things, let's turn to the deposition of May's nephew, Curtis Lee Bartley, known as Curt.

Q--"How long did it take you from the time the master said 'Get your life jacket on,' until you got back...with it on?"

A--"Probably two minutes at the most, I was flying."

Q--"Then what happened?"

A--"He backed us into the Nestucca so we could jump on."

Q--"How close did he come to the Nestucca?"

A--"We hit the Nestucca the first time."

Q--"And do you know what part of the tug hit the tow?"

A--"The stern of the tug hit the barge."
Q--"What happened after you hit her?
A--"I remember getting up from the deck, and we went away from the barge there and came back in and tried it again."
Q--"Getting up from the deck? Were you knocked over by..."
A--"Yes, we hit the barge hard. I got up off the deck, and it seemed like it was maybe a minute and we were ready to try it again."

Q--"At that point is when you jumped on board?"

A--"Yes, we both did at the same time, me and the mate."

Q--"Were you scared?"

A--"No, I was just thinking about doing what I was told."

Q--"Was it much of a jump?"

A--"About ten foot is what I recall."

Q--"Did you make a running jump?"

A--"Yes. It seemed like 10 feet, might not have been that far."

Q--"Did the Ocean Service hit the barge any other time than that first effort to put you aboard?"

A--"No, just one time."

Q--"Did you notice any damage?"

A--"When I jumped the second time we came into the barge, when I jumped I seen a hole in the starboard side."

Q--"You saw a hole when you jumped?"


Q--"What did you do once you were aboard?"

A--"We went up in front of the (barge's deckhouse) behind the splash guard, and was waiting to get a line to the Ocean Service."

Q--"What did the captain do then?"

A--"He was maneuvering the boat to get close enough to us, but he had steering problems. I can't remember how we found out, but he might have hollered to us. I think that's what happened, yeah. He hollered to us."

Q--"Was a line ever thrown to you?"

A--"No, we tried to throw a line to them, threw a heaving line."

Q--"Where was that line, aboard the Nestucca?"

A--"It was, yes, it was in my hand. I took it from the Ocean Service. You always take a heaving line when you board a barge."

Q--"How long a line was that, approximately?"

A--"About a hundred feet."

Q--"How many times did you try?"

A--"Twice, as I recall."

Q--"Was she (the Ocean Service) able to get within a hundred feet of the Nestucca?"

A--"No. Because that line came about, probably when we threw it, it was about, probably, 35 feet short of landing on the ...stern of the boat."

Q--"What happened then?"

Q--"Well, the seas were picking up all the time and it got so bad we went around in back of the house on the barge, and we were taking several waves and we finally--the captain hollered at us to get inside the house to stay there until he told us different, that's what we did."

Q--"Do you recall the size of the swells that you were dealing with once you were aboard the Nestucca?"

A--"I can't say for sure. They were coming clear over the top of this house...."

Q--"When you say 'over the top of the house' are you talking about spray, green water or how much water?"

A--"We were up to about our necks in it a couple of times. I don't know what you mean by solid water. The waves were coming over the top of the house is what I said."

Q--"Are you talking like it' coming in, a solid breaker of surf coming over the bow?"

A--"Yeah, we were hanging on behind the house. I wasn't looking at the waves, I was keeping my head down, hanging on. When the waves were coming over the house we would be up to our necks in water, hanging on."

Q--"How were you communicating with the captain?"

A--"Well, we took a radio aboard the barge with us, but one of the waves hit the mate and shorted out the radio."

Q--"When did that happen?"

A--"Directly after we got on the Nestucca."

Q--"After the radio shorted out, how did you communicate?"

A--"The only other time...was when he came around the portside of the Nestucca with the boat and hollered and told us to get inside."

Q--"After you went inside the house could you see what the Ocean Service did?"

A--"I remember seeing it make two passes around the barge."

Q--"When you made the jump, you testified earlier that you recall seeing a hole in the side of the barge. When did you tell anybody about that?"

A--"I told the mate when we got on the Nestucca."

Q--"When you jumped did you see oil coming out of the hole?"


Q--"Did anyone ever yell to the captain there was an oil leak out of the barge?"

A--"I can't say for sure. Seems like we did yell to him, but I don't recall him hearing us because he was preoccupied."

Captain May was preoccupied for good reason, so let's go back to his deposition:

Q--"You were intending to get close enough to the barge to receive that heaving line, is that right?

Capt. May--"Correct. I figured they would hop aboard, I would stand right there, give them the...line and that would be it. Get hold of the barge and be on my way."

Q--"You pulled away from the barge after you put the men on board and then...discovered you had a stuck rudder?"

A--"Correct. We inspected the rudder compartment and there was no visual damage, we weren't taking on water or anything. We suspected that the rudder was jammed, because I...couldn't use it.

Q--"How long was it...before you managed to free the rudders?"

A--"I think I put it in full ahead and held the rudder over and it kind of broke loose, then I had like five degrees left rudder. ...Five degrees rudder is no rudder, as far as maneuvering."

Q--"Now, how long did it take Wilson after he made the inspection of the rudder compartment, to finish rigging the Orville hook?"

A--"I don't know. I was helping him rig it. I pulled off clear of everything, we rigged it, I set the buoy at the depth I wanted and we threw it overboard.... I went around the barge, came up on the starboard bow...and cut around (the front of it). Jack Wilson was on the spot light so I could see the buoy that was attached to the (Orville) hook. We made a pass across the bridle and snared it."

Q--"Which side of the bridle did you snare?"

A--"The buoy came out a little way and missed the starboard bridle leg and hooked the port bridle leg."

Q--"You were coming around from starboard to portside around the barge...(and) snared the port leg?"

A--"Correct. (And) at that time I had the barge in tow. I immediately maneuvered around in front...and with the limited steering I couldn't hold a course. So I had one engine going astern, one engine pulling, however much power it took to move the barge, stop its drift, gradually towing it out."

Q--"When you talk about setting the length of the buoy (on the Orville hook), what line are you referring to?"

A--"The buoy line that goes from the bridle on the hook to the flotation device"

Q--"This balloon-looking object?" A--"Correct."

Q--"When you set it, what was your objective?"

A--"Approximately eight to ten feet, catch a bridle leg."

Q--"Just so we can understand it, the...bridle hangs straight down, essentially, doesn't it?"

A--"Not in shallow water.... It would have been dragging... at an angle...out away from the barge."

Now, with the connection restored between tug and barge, we return to Bartley and Rickey, soaking wet and probably shivering, taking shelter in the barge house.

Q--"How long did you...spend in the house before you were jump aboard the Janet R?"

A--"Probably six hours."

Q--"What appeared to be driving the barge, was it the waves?"

A--"Seemed like the waves to me."

Q--"Did you notice the effect of any current on the barge's drift?"

A--"No, we could see a buoy, we was getting closer all the time. That's why I knew we were drifting toward the lights."

Q--"Could you...feel when...the Nestucca was reconnected to the Ocean Service?"

A--"We had a good idea. We could tell by the noise that we were being towed. After the Ocean Service made its second pass, we seen it going around and we started hearing a lot of noise from the chain and stuff, the bridle chain off the Nestucca. And that's when we figured we were being towed.

Q--"Can you tell how soon after you went into the house that this second pass occurred and you felt like the Ocean Service had grabbed the bridle or the tow wire?"

A--"Probably 30 minutes, I guess. Twenty to 30 minutes."

Q--"Did the buoy stop getting closer?"

A--"Yeah, with watching that buoy close, we would go way past it and come back out from it, towards the end there. We kind of figured we were going the other direction when we came out away from it."

Q--"Was it just once you went past the buoy and came back out?"

A--"Yes, as I remember."

Q--"So you think that when you went past it you were adrift, when you came back out would be under tow again?"

A--"Yes, that's when we figured we were okay."

One other matter of interest in young Bartley's testimony was the following:

Q--"Was your uncle (Captain May) at all panicked or (did he) appear to be panicked at all?

A--"No, he knew exactly what he wanted to do. He always does."

Another piece of testimony that helps one to understand the situation and succession of events that night is this exchange with Mr. Wilson, the tug's chief engineer:

Q--"Did you see any hole in the barge?"

A--"No, I didn't."

Q--"Was it quite dark at the time?"

A--Well, it was ll:30 at night, but we have floodlights on, floodlights on the stern of the boat. You could see the barge all right. I don't think it was really dark, no." (Note: The time was close to midnight, as the towline had parted about ll:30 p.m.)

Q--"Do you recall approximately how far the mate and the assistant had to jump to make it from the stern of the tug to the barge?"

A--"I think they jumped when the barge and the boat made contact, so there was no horizontal distance. Maybe vertically two feet they jumped down from the boat onto the barge."

Q--"How much time elapsed between the time the men were put aboard and the time you abandoned trying to get the heaving line and went back to...rig the Orville hook?"

A--"Well, for him to get in front of the barge and then make two passes and then discover that the steering was stuck, it was probably five, ten minutes."

Q--"How much time then did it take to get the Orville hook...ready to deploy?"

A--"Five minutes, maybe."

Q--"How long did it actually snare the tow wire (in fact the bridle chain) using the Orville hook?"

A--"After we had it in the water, he just went around the barge and hooked it, so ten minutes maybe."

Q--"Now, after you retrieved the tow...using the Orville hook, what did you do?"

A--"The skipper started pulling it away from the beach. And when the barge was out of danger, we hooked it into the (end of the broken) tow wire where I had put an eye in it and let the tow wire out so that the nylon retrieving line wouldn't chafe on the stern, and we towed it down towards--out to sea, I think."

Q--"How about visibility, do you recall seeing any surf or breakers?"

A--"Yes. It wasn't foggy. We had good visibility. I think there was an occasional rain squall, but there was good visibility. You could see the lights on the beach and (all) that."

Q--"Did the weather worsen that evening? Did it get better? Did it stay about the same?"

A--"When we first lost the barge, the weather was good. And then as we were trying to recover the barge, it worsened. And then it started getting better again after that."

Q--"When was the weather at its worst?"

A--"I think it was worst...probably about the time that we tried to recover with the Orville hook."

Q--"And by worst, could you describe the conditions for us?"

A--"The wind picked up. There was more seas and rain squalls. But it still was only six or eight foot swell. But it was worse than it was prior to that and after that."

Q--"Can you estimate the height of the seas?"

A--"Two to three feet on top of the eight to six foot swells."

Q--"And the force of the wind and direction?"

A--"Oh, 15-20 (knots). But the wind comes and goes with the rain squalls. When the rain comes, the wind blows harder. And when the rain goes away, the wind dies off. And so you can have a patch of bad weather move through and it will just be like a local disturbance."

Gary Rickey, the mate, recalled the swells as having been a bit higher, "eight to ten foot," as he and Bartley stood on the tug's stern waiting to jump to the deck of the Nestucca. He recalled the jump as being "about six feet, maybe," in between the estimates of Bartley and Wilson.

As to the radio he carried, Rickey said at his deposition hearing, "It shorted out almost the instant I got on the barge, within a few minutes. We had a wave come over the bow where Curt and I were standing and it went over our heads."

Relative to whether they tried to shout to Captain May from the barge to inform him it was leaking oil, Rickey said his memory was vague. "You see, we got hit by a wave right after we got on the barge; and you kind of shut down when that happens to you. It's real cold."

That observation by Mr. Rickey recalls the fact that neither he nor Barkley wore a survival suit for the leap to the barge, even though the Ocean Service and all Sause tugs carry them as standard equipment. Time was the essence in the skipper's mind, and donning survival suits would have been time enough to deploy the Orville hook. Captain May estimated there was not time enough before the barge would be in the breakers off the end of the north jetty.

The crew's depositions and testimony at the Portland trial in U.S. District Court on liability for the spill did not focus at length on events subsequent to recovery of the barge. But information given by Captain Freel of Astoria, skipper of the tug Janet R, helps to complete the story, along with some details from Captain May's deposition.

The Janet R had towed the empty chip barge Baranof into Grays Harbor shortly before the Ocean Service broke its towing cable, and waited off Westport until a Foss tug could come out from Hoquiam to take over the barge. Then Freel headed out to sea again to assist the Ocean Service.

It was well past midnight by then, and the tide was ebbing. Freel told Coast Guard investigators later that he encountered eighteen to twenty-foot swells, with every other wave breaking. The drama at sea was being monitored ashore by radio, both by Coast Guard Group Grays Harbor and by Mrs. Josephine (Jo) Dyas, a veteran of more than 10 years handling communication to and from vessels in the Grays Harbor vicinity. A contractor for NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), she provided weather information to mariners.

As the Janet R pulled in behind the Nestucca, which was creeping seaward behind the Ocean Service a half mile south of buoy five, Captain Freel radioed to Captain May at 2:04 a.m.:

"Oh, my God, Chuck, you're leaking oil!"

That was the first anyone, except for the two men on the barge, knew of an oil spill. Freel also reported considerable oil already on the water around the barge.

What had happened was that the left rudder of the Ocean Service, which is twin screw with a rudder astern of each prop, had ripped a six-foot gash in the side of the Nestucca's number one tank. That tank had a 6,000 barrel capacity, and was loaded with 5,800 barrels, 243,600 gallons of bunker fuel oil. Although the hole was near the top of the tank, seawater poured in as the oil poured out, and the heavier water went to the bottom of the tank, lifting the remaining oil so that more could flow out. By the time the hole was plugged 23 hours later at sea, less than 20,000 gallons of bunker fuel remained in the tank.

With knowledge of the spill, Captain May's difficulties multiplied. He had hoped to pass off the tow to Freel and the Janet R, but things were suddenly complicated. May needed to get in touch with his headquarters in Coos Bay, but was unable to. He and Freel discussed by radio the possibility of turning over the tow to the Janet R, and Freel told May that the Nestucca was a large barge for the smaller tug to handle; and if he took it, he would plan to tow it in to Grays Harbor on the next flood tide, about noon Dec. 23. Freel also did not want to chance the changeover until daylight, because of the combination of darkness and rough sea conditions.

Captain May said at his deposition hearing that he would not have passed the tow over to the Janet R "until somebody from the company (Sause) advised me to do that."

May also asserted, "I wouldn't have taken that barge in there under any circumstances on any tide with the setup I had. That barge would have to be passed through somebody else, I wouldn't attempt it."

He was referring, of course, to the fact that the tug's only connection to the barge was the 600 feet of nylon clamped onto the port bridle chain so that the Nestucca was being towed at an angle at very slow speed, and his steering control on the Ocean Service was limited almost entirely to adjusting the speeds of the tug's twin engines. Not only that, but about 1,500 feet of the broken towing cable was dragging on the relatively shallow bottom, with only 40 to 50 feet of water beneath the vessels.

In addition to these considerations, word was radioed to the Ocean Service from Group Grays Harbor that Washington State Department of Ecology officials did not want the leaking barge towed into Grays Harbor. Their concern was potential damage to oyster culture areas and the National Wildlife Refuge west of Hoquiam, a major migratory shorebird stopover. The Coast Guard, heaving a collective sigh of relief at the narrow escape from having a barge with 3 million gallons of fuel break up on the North Jetty, directed that the Nestucca be towed out to sea (See photo 2-2, page __).

"We headed down the coast with it," Captain Freel of the Janet R recalled, "and it was pouring oil out, and there was too much swell to do anything."

One other event relative to his arrival on the scene stuck in Freel's memory of that night. "When we went up to the barge, I've never seen anything like that in my life. These guys were in that bow compartment, and it was completely under water I would say 75 percent of the time. Those guys threw the door open, came steaming out of...I mean, they were in sheer panic to have us come and get 'em off. And I said 'No, no. You guys just stay in there and we'll wait until daylight.'"

It was about 0720 hours, 7:20 a.m., before sea conditions moderated somewhat and Freel was able to take the Janet R alongside the Nestucca to transfer Barkley and Rickey to the tug. "Lucky thing the tankermen had left some clothes in there (in the barge's cabin) and kept them dry. There was two or three changes of clothes, and they went through all of them. Then when we got them back on our boat, we made 'em shower, because they were damn near blue. Stuck 'em in the shower to warm up. Put coveralls on them, then we cleaned up their clothes, dried them out. Later in the day we managed to get up alongside Charles and get them back on their boat."

During that morning, a Coast Guard helicopter dropped a damage control kit onto the after deck of the Janet R; but it was not until ll o'clock that night, 23 hours after the Nestucca had been gashed by the tug's port rudder, that the weather moderated enough for repairs to be made.

"It was the middle of the night," recalled Captain Freel. "The swell had come down (to 8-10 feet, says the Coast Guard report), and I asked Charles to put her over, get it so that it was kind of giving a lee on that one side. I asked our guys, 'Hey, does everyone feel safe about going out there?'

"So I stayed on the boat, running the boat, put two guys on the barge, Monte McCleary and Robert Eddy. Bobby, he know, there was still enough slop there...Bobby could reach the hole over the side if he lay down on his belly on the barge, and Monte held onto Bobby with a rope. Well, Bobby was under water most of the time driving wedges.

"We tried using oil spill diapers first to...take up some of the slack, but then Bobby said he was getting...I was talking to Monte on the radio between the boat (and the barge). Bert Little was in the wheelhouse with me, holding a searchlight. Bobby said the diapers were causing more problems than they were doing any good, so he just ended up patching it with wood. The Coast Guard gave us a whole duffel bag full of shims. With 2-by-4 wedges, you can imagine how long Bobby was in the water.

(The Coast Guard reported the gash in the Nestucca was 6 to 7 feet long and up to 6 inches wide. It was about 18 inches below deck level.)

"Bobby didn't have a survival suit, all he had was a life jacket and rain gear. Monte, holding the rope, had a Mustang survival suit, one of those Mustang work suits. But the difference in height and weight between the two guys, Bobby couldn't get in Monte's suit. I don't think Monte was gonna give it up anyway," Freel recalled.

Summing up his opinion of events involving the Ocean Service and Nestucca that night of December 23 near Grays Harbor buoy 5, Captain Freel said, "As far as I'm concerned, between the guys who were left on the Ocean Service, when they got their line on there and then got their rudder screwed up, and they were still trying to keep things going, still had ahold of that barge, I can't believe what was going on on the bar that night, as far as weather. We the middle of the ebb (tide), and we were right in the middleground there on the bar, and it was damn nasty. There's no two ways about it, those guys deserve something for what they did.... The bottom line is, he kept the barge off that North Jetty."

Recalling later events as they headed southwesterly to a point off the Columbia River, Captain Freel said the Nestucca, Ocean Service and Janet R were even further offshore than had been reported previously by others: "About 36 miles, it seems like. When we got the hole patched, we were 35 or 36 miles off, and they told us once it was patched we could come on in."

That is 58 kilometers, well beyond the continental shelf into deeper water where the north-flowing winter current is stronger and more swift. NOAA's HazMat experts said, however, that the southwest wind pushed the oil back toward shore, where it was carried north by the current coming out of the Columbia River. In mid-January of 1989, as oil ebbed and flowed with the tides along the west coast of Vancouver Island, word was passed belatedly to the Canadians that the leaking barge had been as far as 40 kilometers offshore.

"One of the things that seemed real ironic to me about this whole thing," observed Captain Freel, "was that Charlie towed that thing from Grays Harbor to clear down here off the coast, and then we got the hole patched. So they let us come back in to the beach, and we were gonna bring it across the (Columbia River) bar, and we got to the sea buoy and they wouldn't let him bring it across. They made us take it away from him and start towing it in, then the Salishan (another Sause tug) came, and she got ahold of the other corner (of the barge), too. We started in from just outside the sea buoy, and they had an oil tanker coming down, one of the big tankers coming out of the Columbia, and the captain of the port called me and told me I couldn't go any further than the sea buoy. I said 'Whaddya mean?' and he said 'Well, this oil tanker's coming down, and you haven't got clearance to enter.'

"Well, I got mad," continued Captain Freel, "and took it all the way in to Number 2 (3.1 miles outside the bar), and I called him back and said 'Look here, we only got two more hours of flood (tide), I'm going to get this barge inside. I can take it up to Sand Island, stay out of everybody's way; but I'm not gonna sit out here another tide.' Well, we went on in, and when we got to the bar, they came out with a helicopter and Coast Guard boats, and they wouldn't let us proceed any further until they checked the patch. There must have been 12 guys...went over and looked at the hole and got on the barge and looked at the patch. By that time the swell had dropped way down.

"We went on then, and I think we were right around (buoy) 12 (3 1/2 miles further, directly south of Cape Disappointment and Ilwaco, Washington), and Charlie got made up in the notch behind (to push). We got up to right around 21, between 21 and Desdemona Sands Light (another 3 miles upriver but still 7 miles short of Astoria, Oregon), after that tanker got by. Then we turned around, and we sucked in their insurance line (actually the Orville hook's nylon hawser), piled it onto the deck of the barge, then took off, and we went home for Christmas. That was the end of the story for us, they cancelled our charter right there.

"It was Christmas Eve. And the worst thing was, the following year, Crowley (another towing company) lost an oil barge on the bar here, and we had to stay with it until the 24th. Two years in a row I was out there tending oil barges."

So the Salishan and Ocean Service took the Nestucca upriver, first to Astoria and then on to the shipyard at Portland, where both tug and barge were repaired before going back in service. (See photo 2-3, page __)

British Petroleum (BP), owner of the Nestucca's cargo, advised the Coast Guard that approximately 227,304 U.S. gallons of oil were lost, plus or minus 100 barrels, 4,200 gallons. The maximum loss, therefor, would have been 231,504 gallons, which was 7.87 percent of the total 2,940,000 gallons (70,000 barrels) the barge carried. Minimum loss would have been 223,104 gallons.

Mention of the barge's capacity brings up a confusion factor that arose in the first days after the spill. Marine parlance deals with oil by barrels, but landlubbers use gallons. An early release to news reporters mistakenly employed the 70,000 barrel barge capacity as gallons rather than barrels, and that figure was used by news media in some reports as the quantity of oil spilled. The actual loss in the spill was not determined until the barge arrived in the Columbia River, probably after it reached Portland. (To be continued)

email the Author, Dave Webster