Fishermen, dog, lost at sea
While a half dozen or so people drowned in the ocean every year when abalone diving was legal and people sometimes fall from cliffs, this was the highest number of fatal boating accidents Rex has seen in his dozen years in charge here. And to make matters worse, he is also hearing more disturbing stories of close encounters people have been having with sneaker waves this year. The good weather has meant very bad news for some. Another man reportedly fell to his death from a cliff in Point Arena on Nov. 30, but no details were available right away.
Who were these fishermen?
Charles Case was famous for his halibut, which he caught and shared. Case, 58, had made thousands of trips to sea and once owned a fleet of rental fishing boats in Oregon. On November 10 about 1 p.m, he headed out of Noyo Harbor. The swells were more than 10 feet and rising. The tide was falling. Neither of these were good signs, but he was driving his beloved 21 foot Boston Whaler with lifelong pal Kenny Silva by his side. A local party boat crew member on its way in due to big swells, remembers seeing them going out, as the party boat was coming in/ Yet, The Boston Whaler is known for “unsinkable” marketing slogan.
Three hours later, Case, who had fished thousands of times from Baja to Alaska, washed up dead on Ten Mile Beach near Ward. Emergency responders found the boat marooned on a sandbar just a half mile up the beach from his body. Silva, age 61, is presumed dead.
Case, who lived on a 100 acre ranch in Comptche in the early 2000’s where he was a hunting guide and farmed in greenhouses, had survived one boat roll-over and been rescued. His boat, which didn’t sink but did flip, had been modified with a new steel top and many extras.
On Nov. 24, Lloyd Dorris, 61, also of Lakeport, left the harbor to get his crab pots and was thrown from his boat in crashing breakers at the north end of Pudding Creek Beach. The case garnered national media attention, including in People Magazine, due to his still missing dog, a pug named Priya. Neither the boat nor the dog have been found by early December.
The Coast Guard sent boats out immediately in both cases and later Coast Guard helicopters were on both scenes. The county and state parks also responded.
Spectacular early winter days have kept people hitting the beaches and ocean. But the ocean is as wild as ever in December. Big waves, whitecaps and those big daytime swings between low and high tide have arrived on schedule.
Rex plans to put up signs warning of maritime dangers on the Sonoma Coast and at Highway 20 and Highway 1, where most visitors arrive. The signs will be modeled after Cal Fire’s Smokey the Bear signs, where Smoky points to low, medium or high fire danger.
The November low minus tides that exposed that sandbar where Case’s boat was found are bookended by very high tides. That means the water is moving much faster than it does on summer days, when there is little tide variability or the most dangerous low tides happen after dark.
All three men on the two boats shared a love of Fort Bragg fishing but the near shore ground fishery was closed this year. And crab fishing was closed south of the Mendocino County line. That means fishermen are coming here in small boats that may not be so familiar with the Mendocino Coast. Rex said one danger of crab fishing on days with strong swells is that the ocean will push the pots closer to shore and into the breaker area, which is much more dangerous than the place the crabber left them.
Case and Silva, who grew up in Richmond, were well known in Noyo harbor and Fort Bragg as affable fellows with strong senses of humor. Dorris loved rescue dogs and his wife is a key volunteer at the Inland Humane Society of Mendocino County. Dorris was a pest control technician and a former air traffic controller. His family is still hoping for the return of beloved pug Priya, even if she is found dead.