Monday, January 23, 2006

UFO's, Bar Pilots, & Crabs

Well, all the hoopla about the UFO sighting has pretty much died down, and now MUFON is looking for more witnesses. It's a very nice idea, but I really doubt anyone else saw it besides me, my son, and my daughter-in-law. The MUFON field investigator's request for more witnesses did make it into the Daily Astorian, and you can see the article here:

MUFON Request

On a very sad note, one of the local bar pilots was lost at sea. For those of you who aren't aware of what bar pilots do, they go on board incoming and outgoing ships to guide them across the Pacific Bar, which is where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. It is one of the most treacherous stretches of sea in the world, and it is known as the "Graveyard of the Pacific" with good reason.

The night in question was very rough, and the bar pilot, Kevin Murray, had already guided the outgoing ship across the bar. To get off the ship, bar pilots have to grab a ladder and get back to the pilot boat (or helicopter), timing the swells of the ocean, etc. for a safe landing. You can get an idea of how tricky all this is at the bar pilots' web site:

Bar Pilot Web Site

Anyway, on January 9th, in some very rough weather, bar pilot Kevin Murray did not make it back to the pilot boat, and fell into the water. The other bar pilots were not able to rescue him, and he was lost at sea. From what I understand, the bar pilots wear inflatable vests with GPS tracking systems on them. Somehow, everything went wrong, and his body was found two days later on the coast sixty miles north of Astoria.

The bar pilot's death put a pall over the whole town. What they do is so incredibly dangerous it's amazing they don't get lost at sea more often, but apparently this was the first loss in thirty years. In the Daily Astorian there was a notice that there would be a ceremonial wreath-dropping into the river last Friday, and that it could be seen from the Fishermens' Memorial under the Astoria Bridge. We wanted to show our respects, so we went.

Only about ten people were out there at the Memorial, and I was truly shocked. What we didn't know at the time was that there was a very large group of people out on the decks of the Cannery Pier Hotel a little to the west of us. We could only see the back of the hotel from our position, so we couldn't see the gathering.

After about 15 minutes of waiting, the pilot boat showed up, and just sat out in the river close to shore. It rained heavily for a few minutes, then a luminous rainbow appeared on the east side of the bridge. A fitting tribute, to be sure.

Eventually, the bar pilot helicopter showed up, swooped in east towards the bridge, then came around west and positioned itself above the pilot boat. Everyone seemed to hold their breath as the memorial wreath was dropped from the helicopter into the river. I just happened to catch a photo of the wreath in mid-air. You can see the photo, and the article from the Daily Astorian here:

Bar Pilot Memorial

I wish I had known about the service actually being at the Cannery Pier Hotel, as I would have gone. But it was beautiful where we were positioned, and at least we were there to send our thoughts to him and his family.

Crab season has also been the talk of the town. Or rather, the lack of it. The season got started late because it was felt that the dungeness crabs had not meated up enough after growing their new shells. More about the dungeness crab here:

Dungeness Crab

When the season finally got started, the crabbers and the markets couldn't agree on price. By the time they agreed, the weather had turned foul and dangerous, and they couldn't go out over the Pacific Bar, as there were 15'+ ocean swells.

Finally the weather let up a little, and while it was still extremely rainy, windy, and treacherous, the crabbers went out. My significant other was out there on the docks in Warrenton, in full rain-gear and knee-high rubber boots, helping unload the crab-pots from the returning boats ... for about eight days.

Then the crabbers went on strike. The issue of price came up again, and the crabbers were not happy. The markets are selling the crab for $4.99 a pound, but only wanted to give the crabbers $1.50 a pound. Crabbing is one of the most dangerous professions in the world, and the markets are quibbling on price?

But today my significant other got a call to come back to work, which must mean that the crabbers have stopped striking. I hope.

Astoria Photografpix

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