I thought it might be interesting to share sea stories on the subject of bad luck and skiffs. The story below is old, but I always remember it because it occurred when I was a young captain working in the area.
On November 7, 1990, the crab processing boat Coastal Star was anchored in Port Moller, a bay on the north side of the Alaskan Peninsula. Port Moller has strong tidal currents, and is shallow, with mudflats and sandbars. The nearest village was 12 miles away. In these operations, it’s normal to send the skiff to town once a day to get mail, parts, and workers.
The skipper sent the deck supervisor to the village in the skiff, along with another crew member and the fisheries observer. The skiff was big: 25 feet-long, aluminum, with good outboards. The crew had PFDs, VHF radio, and, importantly, instructions from the skipper: no screwing around. No showing off (the observer was a woman, the crew members, men). Radio the skipper once they got to the village. Etc. Several people heard the skipper give these instructions. The boat crew left during the slack before flood.
When no word was heard from the skiff via radio, the skipper called the USCG. The next day at daylight, the USCG flew over the area. The boat was found overturned, dug into a mudflat. Two bodies were found nearby. They were reported to have died from drowning and hypothermia. When the hull of the boat, deeply dug into the mud, was cut open, the body of the third person was found inside.
The USCG initially found the skipper to be negligent. I don’t have documentation as to why, but newspaper accounts state there had been a small craft advisory up at the time. Perhaps this was the reason why, but the actual weather was not reported to have been bad in the area. I was told by a person who would know, that the skipper got the USCG to publicly retract their finding, when his crew testified that he had given detailed instructions to the boat crew, and had properly outfitted the boat. Nevertheless, the tragedy followed the skipper for the rest of his life.
I’ve always wondered: What could have occurred to have augured such a big, heavy skiff upside-down into a mudflat? The tragedy serves as an example of a skipper doing things right when it comes to using a skiff, and still have people die. It points out too the usefulness of having witnesses when you give orders, or have someone sign written orders.