Oregon State’s Research Vessel, Pacific Storm, is mainly used to study whales, and other marine mammals, but one day this summer, it and its captain and crew played an instrumental role in rescuing a different kind of mammal.
On July 19, Fred and Beth Stieg were anchoring in San Miguel Island’s Cuyler Harbor, about 60 nautical miles south west of Ventura Harbor in California.
Fred Stieg said that the bow anchor was set 100 yards from the beach at 18 feet and an additional 80 feet of anchor line was run out. They were in the process of setting a stern anchor when unusually large incoming high-tide waves pulled the bow anchor out and beach the boat before they realized what was happening. Fred said that they later found out that the recommended bow anchor for Cuyler Harbor did not hold in the powdery sand where they were.
The Boxcar Anchors, which did hold in Cuyler Harbor’s soft sand, were set out and after about four hours, they successfully pulled the boat back into the water just as another big wave slammed the boat on top of Beth and knocked Fred into the ocean. Beth was bruised and wet but seemed OK. Fred suffered a broken finger and severe rope burns and abrasions on both hands, and the boat was again grounded on the beach.
“The mistake we made was paying more attention to our re-floating boat than the incoming waves,” Fred Stieg said.
The couple clambered out of the ocean onto dry land and radioed the Los Angeles Harbor Coast Guard and said that they were grounded and requesting assistance. Oregon State University’s Research Vessel, Pacific Storm, then radioed back that they heard the Stieg’s distress call and were coming to assist.
“We were out tagging whales and just about to call it a day when the call came in,” Pacific Storm Captain Bob Pedro said.
After about an hour, Beth Stieg became hypothermic; despite dry clothes and blankets she started shivering, convulsing and vomiting uncontrollably.
“The situation was becoming pretty scary,” Fred Stieg said. “I advised the Pacific Storm just as she was coming in that I wanted to declare a medical emergency. Thanks to the Pacific Storm’s radios, the Coast Guard dispatched a rescue copter and evacuated Beth and I to Santa Barbara. It was nice to see the R/V Pacific Storm still standing by as we flew off.”
“The biggest thing we did for the couple was gave them moral support,” Pedro said. “I’m a trained first aid instructor, and I just gave them advice and encouragement while we communicated with the Coast Guard.
The Channel Islands are part of the Federal Water Sanctuary and a protected underwater habitat; Fred and Beth said that it was essential to salvage the wreck as safely and as soon as possible to minimize damage to this marine environment.
“The Pacific Storm was instrumental in contacting Salvage Operations in Ventura Harbor for me. Vessel Assist’s Captain Amaral informed us that the Pacific Storm stayed on location through the night to direct Vessel Assist to our boats location and stayed until salvage operations were complete,” Fred Stieg said. “Both we and our environment are safer because of people like (Pedro) and crew of the R/V Pacific Storm.”