Return to the Oregon coast – April 2013

Charles R. (Bob) Hitz                       Bobs Posting #10                 June 20, 2013

Coast Guard Motor Life Boat

Coast Guard Motor Life Boat

My wife and I decided to visit the Oregon coast for a week in April 2013.  It has been a number of years since we visited the area.  My career as a marine biologist with the Exploratory Fishing Base in Seattle took me there during some of the trips that R/V JOHN N. COBB made between 1960 and 1970.  I got to know Astoria and Newport, Oregon well, because when the weather changed to a gale it was wise to be in a protected harbor.  Once the weather closed the entrance to the harbor known as the bar there was no choice, you were either storm-bound in the harbor or at sea in the storm itself.

Our first stop was Astoria.  We had a motel on the west side of town near the port docks and in the morning we drove over to where the COBB had moored.

When we came in 50 years ago I would go ashore and look up the watchman, and ask if it was OK to tie up there until the storm passed.  He used to say, “A government vessel is always welcome.”  Those were the days.

West of the port docks there used to be vacant land but now there was a boatyard.  There

Coast Guard Motor Life Boat

Coast Guard Motor Life Boat

were good boats being readied for the coming fishing season along with derelicts, such as a sailboat that apparently got caught on the bar and was a total loss.  A log ship was loading at a pier nearby, where before there would be rafts of logs in the water alongside a ship with longshoremen walking the floating logs, loading.  Now logs are stacked on the shore next to the ship and machines do most of the work, a much more efficient system.

Our next stop was the Columbia River Maritime Museum, which we had planned to visit since Carmel Finley said they had a shark movie we should see.  I thought it would be on World War II shark fisheries, which I was interested in, but instead it was a 3-D presentation by Jock Cousteau’s son.  He apparently was doing the same thing that his dad did with his movies in the past, stimulating youngsters’ excitement about the biological field.  The way the children reacted viewing this 3-D movie will probably have the same effect.  When the jellyfish on screen appeared to be floating off into the air above them, those in the front row started reaching for them because they looked so real.  It was well done and should draw families in during the summer months and quietly educate them about declining fish resources.

Coast Guard 44-footer

Coast Guard 44-footer

The rest of the displays were fascinating and we could have spent the entire day there.  The models were wonderful and I spent time looking at the workmanship and not what the display was about.  I missed the display about World War II shark fisheries, which I understand they were setting up, but we will be back next year and will see it then.

The full sized salmon troller DARLE was presented as she would have been on the ocean, catching salmon.  It had the outrigger poles out with a fisherman landing a salmon.  The effects were mesmerizing and I spent so much time looking it over that I didn’t leave enough time to admire the other displays in outlying rooms, but got a quick look at them as I went by. The one that caught me offguard was that of an actual Coast Guard 44 foot Motor Life Boat (MLB), which can be seen through the front windows of the building.  It was frozen in place with the bow up as a huge sea passed under her.  Looking at the profile you only notice one person on the vessel, the coxswain steering the boat.  But walking around the stern and looking up at the port side brought home how dangerous this work can be along the Oregon coast.  Three other crewmen were near the port rail and one of them was throwing a life ring to someone in the water.  It was a great display that someone put a lot of thought and effort into making so realistic, including the sound effects of the high seas.  A reminder of what the coastal bars can be like in a storm.

The 44 foot motor life boats were the workhorses during the 60s and 70s.  They replaced the 36 footers and today they have been replaced by the new 47 footer.  I have been fascinated with the MLBs, so when our cottage business, H&H Studios, got started my wife and I took a trip down the Oregon coast and visited each of the Coast Guard Stations, gathering information in order to create drawings.  The 44 footer was predominate vessel at that time.

There were also four 52 footers in use then and in fact they are still in use today.  They are much slower than any of the other designs, but are bigger, heavier and double-ended.  They are the only Coast Guard vessels of 65 feet or less in length that are named, the VICTORY (MLB 52312), INVINCIBLE (MLB 52313), TRIUMPH (MLB 52314) and INTREPID (MLB 52315).  The drawings developed into station plaques for individual stations.  The 47 footer has now become the workhorse of the stations along the Oregon coast.  All the MLBs must right themselves when capsized in large surf or during a storm.  The engineering that goes into them is extraordinary.

After we left Astoria we went down to Cannon beach, where our motel had an ocean view. Blog 10 CGB 44 M2 The weather was fine, the sun was out, there was just a breeze blowing and a crab boat was working off shore pulling and resetting her crab pots.  She worked during the day and at night, when we could see the floodlights and, depending on the tides, she would work the pots close to shore on high tides and further out on lower.  The weather was nice but there were signs of a change, a high overcast slowly moving in and the sun had a ring around it, signs of a blow coming.  When we left Cannon Beach the crabber was gone, I assume back to Astoria because of the anticipation of a worsening weather.

The rain came in and as we headed south to Newport the wind picked up.  When we reached Newport we found that the CG had the small craft warnings up, a single red diamond flag.  The next day when we drove past the station the gale warning was up, two red diamond flags.  It was great to see the bar from our viewpoint on the bluff.  The breakers were awesome and reminded me of the days we were stormbound in Newport.  It was nice to be on the shore side and not on the outside trying to get in.

In Newport I went out to NOAA’s new Marine Operations Center – Pacific (MOC-P) and visited the NOAA ship RAINIER, which is home-ported there.  I also visited the museum in the main building and saw the model of the NOAA R/V JOHN N. COBB.

Before we left Newport we drove past the Barge Inn on the waterfront, which looked exactly like it did 50 years ago.  That brought back memories of a wonderful hamburger, when on the way back to the COBB I would stop in and have one as the rain poured down and the wind blew; soul food for me.


About finleyc

I'm a writer and a historian of science. I'm interested in the intersection of science and policy in the oceans, and especially around fishing.
This entry was posted in boat building, Dayton Lee Alverson, Environmental History, Exploratory Fishing Base, fisheries science, Fishing, History of Science, History of Technology, Maritime History, Pacific Fishing History Project, R/V John N. Cobb, U.S. Coast Guard and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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