Monday, February 11, 2019

Remembering the New Carissa

New Carissa broken in two [Wikipedia]

by Don Norman

Last week's story commemorating the 20th anniversary of the New Carissa grounding near Coos Bay, Oregon, [20 Years Ago: The Grounded Freighter That Never Reached its Destination] prompted Salish Sea News reader Don Norman, a veteran of oil spills, to recall his work there.

Before the New Carissa grounding 20 years ago, I had only been to Yachats one weekend and had been to a winter conference on the Oregon coast back in the 1980s, so, when the call came to help on the New Carissa, it was a real winter infusion of adventure (and some paying work for a winter with no work). 

When I got down to the Command Center in Waldport, it was quickly apparent that I did not want to stay inside the gymnasium doing paperwork when there were hundreds of miles of beach to check for oil and dead birds. Much to the chagrin of my employer, I opted for the field work and took a truck with a ATV and got permission to visit all the major spits from Newport north to ensure no oil (or dead birds) was going north.

I distinctly remember the day that they towed a large part of the boat out to sea. I had been searching the Tillamook Spit beach, which is 18 miles long.  I was riding down wind, standing up on the ATV dodging logs on the beach and the shoreline, searching.  It was really glorious fun until I turned around and faced south.  The wind had picked up, it started to cloud up, and I could barely move forward hunkered down on the ATV.  The surf was up so I couldn’t ride the hard pan on the beach and I was getting wet.   It took me about 2 hours to get back, and I was hypothermic.  I sat in the truck, heat blasting, no one around as the storm had really come in.  As I warmed up, I dozed off, nibbling on something… I finally got enough energy to load the ATV and head back towards Newport, where we were staying.  I was driving south on that windy Hwy 101 and I hit a complete stop where trees had crashed down, blocking both lanes. All the loggers had grabbed their chainsaws and were cutting the trees.  I was helping haul branches off and rolling logs off to the side of the road.  No one was saying much; everyone just wanted to be home.  It was like a scene out of a movie.  Pitch black outside the headlights, rain pouring down, chain saws sputtering and whirring.   Someone asked me, who are you, and I said I was working on the oil spill.  That was when I learned that the cable snapped in that storm and the boat came ashore again. 

The other thing I remember was that our motel was right next to the Rogue Brewery.  Remember, it was February, and it was dark early, so we were able to call in our reports from the field around 4pm, and stop in Newport, not having to drive all the way down to Waldport and then drive back.  So we made it into the little pub often before they closed.  And drank some of the greatest beer at cheap prices. 

It was really hard cold work.  But I got to visit Tillamook, Netarts, Newhalem and Nestucca spits.  I was away from the oil and action, but I was helping ensure that there were no surprises up north from the spill area.  

For more on the New Carissa, see  The Removal of the New Carissa and New Carissa 
Another try to tow the ship away [Gene LaRochelle]

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