Albacore tuna fishermen have endured vagaries of wind, weather
and water during a 2013 season that has ebbed and flowed, but two long-time
tuna trollers lost almost everything the first week of August when their vessel
went down about 80 miles offshore northwest of Coos Bay, Oregon.
summer for 25 years while living aboard their vessel, lost the 60-foot F/V
Sea Princess on August 5, when an explosion below deck in the
engine area blew a hole in the hull, sending the boat, fishing gear and related
equipment, 17,000 pounds of tuna and most of their personal possessions to the
ocean bottom. The couple radioed for help and abandoned ship, bobbing on the
waves for about 20 minutes before fellow fisherman Rick Goche rescued them –
and ultimately their two cats, Topaz and Jasper.
Disneyland,” Mark quipped, recalling the incident during a September 9 telephone
conversation from the couple’s winter home in LaPine (central Oregon).
firing a live broadside that can take out the side of a vessel, which is
exactly what happened to the Schneiders. Mark said of the blast that “literally
took out half the boat.”
temperatures played havoc with albacore tuna fishing early in the season,
August 5 offered the Schneiders decent weather, a calm sea and good fishing.
a vessel they had poured their hearts and souls into reviving.
Princess, a wooden vessel built in 1924 – an acknowledged “fixer-upper”
purchased three years ago that soaked up a lot of time and money, but provided
them with more stability in rough seas and more storage capacity. They worked
on the aft-house schooner through most of 2011, half of 2012, and for three
months this year, repairing and remodeling the time-tested and sea-ravaged
vessel from bow to stern, with careful attention to detail to meet their own
high standards for safety and mechanical features.
that they had “always dreamed of owning” an aft-house schooner, and worked
diligently to basically bring this one “back from the brink of death. It needed
a tremendous amount of work.”
aboard the refurbished schooner, and never in their worst nightmares had they
envisioned it being the boat’s last voyage.
prepared.” Fellow fishermen say they installed safety equipment and features
that were impressive by US Coast Guard standards long before they were
mandatory. They took many Coast Guard safety classes, and regularly honed their
survival skills. They also carried tools and supplies needed for making repairs
at sea, if necessary.
fishing standpoint, it’s to remind others about being ready, because this could
happen to anyone,” said Mark, who is known for attention to every little detail
and leaving nothing to chance. In other words, don’t’ skimp on safety measures.
things really necessary to stop us from panicking,” he added.
can’t completely override an irresistible, unexpected disaster.
coats, hoods and earplugs, and everything was smooth sailing, or so it seemed.
minutes before the explosion revealed nothing out of the ordinary. “I went over
everything with a fine-toothed comb,” said Mark. “Yet we had an accident.”
blast that ripped a massive chunk out of the hull, sent a fireball rolling out
of the engine room, knocked Cynthia several feet backward, and gave both of
them first-degree flash burns on their faces. The boat’s fire suppression
system worked well, they said, but to no avail for the doomed vessel, and
Schneider credits their Coast Guard training for preparing them for various
types of situations, including such a crisis at sea so many hours from shore.
minutes went by during which Mark searched frantically for their pair of feline
rescued once on land from the animal shelter, acquired their sea legs while
living on the boat when the Schneiders worked on it in Winchester Bay. But
nothing from that experience taught them how to deal with a sudden plunge into
the ocean that likely cost each of them at least one of their proverbial nine lives.
the Coast Guard they were abandoning ship, and donned her survival suit. She
also stuffed her purse, some jewelry and a camera into a backpack. Mark,
meanwhile, went to the engine room to assess the situation. Seeing sky and
ocean where hull should be and water rushing in to fill the gap, he realized
they were sinking and must abandon ship.
nowhere in sight and didn’t respond to his calls for them.
the cats behind. She told him to get into his survival suit, that the cats
would follow their natural survival instincts. “I kept calling and calling for
the kitties, but I’m sure they were traumatized by the blast and didn’t know
what the heck was going on. I was very focused on my kitties,” Mark said of the
felines that he regards as furry children. “I always believe that you never
leave anyone behind. I was determined to find them, but they were hiding pretty
good. Cynthia finally got me snapped out of it. She had to yell at me to get me
off the boat.”
blast, would eventually come out of hiding and swim for it, Mark leaped
overboard with Cynthia, and they spent 15 to 20 minutes bobbing on the ocean
until help arrived.
current chairman of the Oregon Albacore Commission and a Port of Bandon
commissioner, was fishing with his brother Larry aboard the F/V Peso
II, about 1.5 miles away, when he heard the late afternoon call on
the radio. He and several other fishermen also fishing nearby – including some
who had witnessed the blast – pulled their gear and responded to the scene.
Cynthia and the cats from the water,” noted Nancy Fitzpatrick, executive
director of the Oregon Albacore Commission, in an online message posted to the
Western Fishboat Owners Association (WFOA). The Schneiders are members of the
non-profit association that represents more than 400 family-owned albacore
fishing vessels, fishermen and supporting businesses in Oregon, Washington, California,
Alaska, Hawaii, New Zealand and British Columbia.
gathered on deck to watch the Sea Princess in its death
throes. Other fishermen arrived and encircled the sinking boat, keeping a
solemn, silent and grim vigil for the 40 minutes or so it took her to disappear
completely beneath the waves.
spotted four-year-old Topaz swimming frantically through the flotsam and debris
toward them. Goche nabbed the dripping wet, frightened feline and brought her
aboard. That left one-year-old Jasper unaccounted for until they spotted him,
stranded on the boat’s bow, hanging onto the anchor and stubbornly ignoring
their pleas and refusing to abandon the lost boat until it was nearly gone and
he had to either sink with it or swim.
safely aboard Goche’s boat. All hands accounted for, human and feline.
with Coast Guard investigators, speculates that a pinhole leak in the diesel
tank sprayed a fine mist of fuel into the intake, making it backfire. The
concussion from the last backfire knocked the top off of a freon-filled
refrigeration canister and ignited it.
lost, at least for now. “We still had tuna hanging on the gear,” Mark noted.
has set up a fund to help the Schneiders.
and life preserver for fishermen and their families, and liaison to the larger
community. Its members take every opportunity to offer seafaring and seafood
education to the public through its many venues, and work toward improved
safety for fishermen and their vessels. They show others the ebb and flow of
the nation’s most hazardous occupation and how it’s woven into the social and
economic fabric of coastal communities – and beyond.
and business,” says Connie Kennedy, co-owner with husband Tony of the F/V
Majesty. “You don’t hear fishermen say they are going ‘catching,’
because there are no guarantees, yet they must be optimistic and prepared for
both a business and way of life.
independent small businesses, individually and collectively plying the ocean to
harvest its bounty.
competition and cooperation by providing “a network of support to each other
and our fishing community.” But the outreach extends well beyond a mere public
are keenly aware of just how treacherous commercial fishing can be,” said
fisherman’s wife and commercial fishing advocate Heather Mann. “When an
accident occurs, it is a knife through the heart of the community, sharply felt
by those of us who live here and devastating to the families of those lost.”
understand that the most important fishing line is the financial bottom line.
economic havoc accidents can wreak.
season or major fishing trip before landing or delivering any fish. No fish, no
paycheck. Families of fishermen lost at sea and never recovered must sometimes
navigate treacherous government agency waters to obtain a death certificate.
And it can take weeks or even months for life insurance funds to become
available. Losing a vessel – even an insured one – can easily end their way of
earning a living, and the lifestyle that goes with it.
dreams, joys and sorrows as they keep the home fires burning. They say all
fishing families, have had to adjust and “make sacrifices while out at sea,”
with none more devastating than loss of life or vessel, or both.
incident, including their feline family members. All things considered, Mark
said as horrible as the sinking itself was, conditions were “very much in our
favor” for survival. The day started with 20-knot winds that had dropped to 10
knots at the time of the accident. The weather and waves were calm, not stormy,
the accident occurred during the day instead of at night, and they had several
fishing partners nearby.
said, noting that they did so aboard their former vessel, the 48-footF/V
Sea Princess, chasing after Dungeness crabs, salmon and albacore tuna.
“This is the first August in 23 years that we spent the whole month at home.
It’s kind of weird.”
Oregon). They moved there six years ago, lured by the excitement of
snowboarding. Mark said he traded crabbing for snowboarding, calling it a good
move. They’re now trying to chart their future course under difficult
Schneiders are already negotiating the purchase of another aft-house vessel
with a fiberglass hull they located in Canada. They had hull insurance, but
only enough other insurance to cover about half of the money they put into the
Sea Princess. He said their business partner, Portland, Oregon-based New
Seasons has stepped up and been instrumental in trying to help them recover as
quickly as possible. The Schneiders provide tuna for New Seasons outlets, as
well as canning and marketing their own tuna under their “Catch of the Sea”
the fishing life.
Jasper” stayed with the boat until the last second as it went down. They
suggested a “Captain Jasper” line of products, perhaps for discriminating
disappeared from under him.”
disappearing from the fishing life. And NFW and others are trying to help.
through the Fishing Family Relief Fund. Most of the time, it means giving them
a small check to cover the cost of basic needs. Other times, with the family’s
consent, NFW manages a bank account for tax-deductible donations from the local
exceeded $10,000. As of September 7, they had gleaned $2,000 for the
Sea Princess, to: Newport Fishermen’s Wives, Inc ., P.O. Box 971,
Newport, OR 97365. For more information, call 541-574-5555, send email to
firstname.lastname@example.org, or go online tohttp://www.newportfishermenswives.com.