Washington State Park officials breathed a sigh of relief last Tuesday when Salish Rescue volunteers were able to successfully winch the 80-foot schooner Nina Otaki off the beach at Fort Worden, where the vessel had been hard aground since Sunday, Sept 17. The schooner, built from iron-reinforced concrete, weighs 63 tons. The boat had dragged anchor and been blown ashore on the State Park beach just south of the Point Wilson lighthouse during one of the highest tides of the month.
Several bystanders in visiting pleasure boats had previously attempted to tow the grounded vessel off the beach late Sunday afternoon, at one point pulling hard enough to wrench loose a deck cleat on the towing boat and snap 3/4-inch lines. No commercial towing operators in the area had anything close to the estimated 18,000-lbs of pulling capacity needed to drag the boat free. Department of Natural Resources, local fire and law enforcement and the Coast Guard were all concerned about the situation, but no one had the specialized equipment needed to pull a boat that large. It looked as though Nina Otaki might remain stuck on the Fort Worden State Park beach for some time.
Salish Rescue instructor Erik Wennstrom originally thought his team of volunteers and trainees had little chance of actually freeing the huge boat, but thought that rigging kedge anchors and attempting to winch the boat free might serve as a useful salvage-rigging training exercise for the Salish crew. Salish Rescue is a volunteer search and rescue non-profit operating in Port Townsend since 2004, training year-round to provide safety cover for events and small-boat rescue work.
The Salish salvage crew – a combination of adult volunteers, and students from the Salish Rescue Explorer Post – began work early Monday, using shovels to dig Nina Otaki’s keel partially free. This allowed tidal action to help “scour” more sand away and create a path forward for the boat. On Tuesday, a series of coordinated pulls, winching the boat against multiple anchors set at an angle to the beach, helped Nina slowly creep forward with just over 18,000 pounds of strain spread across four different anchor systems. The final pull was timed for just prior to Tuesday afternoon’s high tide; falling tides throughout the rest of the month meant it was this tide, or not at all.
Slowly, the boat nosed slightly seaward, and abruptly, two of the anchor lines lost tension; Nina was back afloat. At roughly 4:30 on Tuesday afternoon, Nina Otaki drove away from the beach under her own power, accompanied by cheers and applause from the many officials and bystanders on the beach.
UPDATE: Lots of great local press coverage on this: