About 4 a.m. on Jan. 19 near Goddard Hot Springs, the well-regarded Sitka mailboat and tender Eyak slammed into a submerged rock and tore out a chunk of her middle. Skipper Dave Castle was at the helm when he felt the impact. Castle had been dealing with finicky radar and heavy weather. A quick check of the damage showed a large hole.
“It was too big to even think about pumping,” Castle said. Three other people and Castle’s dog Olive were on board. After issuing a distress call, they donned survival suits and deployed the life raft. Castle plugged vents to keep fuel from leaking. Two people boarded the raft and a third held the line. Castle lowered Olive down on a rope tied to her doggie PFD. He rescued three of his most prized musical instruments – two guitars and a mandolin. “I didn’t grab my cell phone or my computer like a smart person,” he laughs now.
Rescue arrived quickly in the form of boats from the Sitka Search and Rescue squad, Sitka Police and Alaska State Troopers and from Castle’s other boat, Silver Arrow. Castle stayed on the scene in Silver Arrow. Thirty minutes after leaving Eyak, the boat heeled over on one side. Within a couple of hours, it half-floated completely upside down, propped on its mast.
And now, sad story gets more optimistic. First, all hands (and paws) were safe. And the damage to Eyak was much less than it might have been. After 10 days upside down, the vessel was raised by a barge equipped with a back hoe, crane and very experienced operators, using a combination of lifting straps, flotation bags and pumps. Eyak, soaked and bruised, was upright again.
In Sitka, news spread quickly of Eyak’s misadventure. People lined up to help. A fundraising website raised $25,000 from nearly 200 people.
“It’s amazing,” said Castle. “Everything I’ve tried to do, people have wanted to help.”
He will do some of the topside repairs with friends and then move to the haulout in Wrangell to do the more extensive work on the bottom. He wants to have Eyak back on the mail run by the end of 2015.
Castle said his insurance will allow him to complete about half the needed repairs, but he is considering creative forms of financing for the other half. With the boat and his mail-hauling contract as security, Castle may try to lure private investors, who would then be paid back, with interest, over a set time.
“If there’s any way, reference my gratitude and thanks to people,” Castle said. “It’s helping me to get where I need to go.”
An article about Eyak was written the year before her sinking. View Article