Thursday, December 13, 2007

Dan the Oysterman's Survival Saga

Note- during the storm, word spread from ham radio and quickly thru the Peninsula that our beloved oysterman and resident musician, 'Danny' (as my father calls him) Discroll met with trouble while tending his oyster beds. We were relieved to find out he was safe. His story is here.
reprinted from The Chinook Observer, photo of skiff by George Hill

Oysterman's survival saga leads to discovery of skull
Observer Staff Writer

Dan Driscoll’s Willapa Bay oyster skiff was washed so far west by storm-strengthened waves and currents that it was easier to recover it by towing it over the primary dune on to the ocean beach.

OYSTERVILLE - One local man is lucky to be safe and sound this week after getting caught up in last week's dangerous storm while on Willapa Bay in his small open boat. For a time, his family and friends feared that he had perished. Here is the story of his adventure.

Shortly before daylight Sunday, Oysterville Sea Farm Owner Dan Driscoll awoke in preparation for a brief outing on Willapa Bay before the arrival of last week's 48-hour storm.
Headed to an oyster bed east of Leadbetter Point State Park, Driscoll estimated that the storm would arrive later in the day, giving him just enough time to get in one last run in his father, Les Driscoll's skiff. He had some difficulties pulling up the anchors on his scow and open skiff, but eventually got underway. But halfway to the beds, the winds began to pick up and water became more threatening.

"I wasn't worried," he explains. "That's why I prefer skiffs and boats like them, because you're fully aware of what the weather is doing. ... I knew the wind direction and I knew that I would be blown to shore if anything happened."

Upon reaching one of the oyster beds, Driscoll anchored the scow once the winds allowed him to do so. As he attempted to turn the boat around, the oysterman turned around to only be met by a white wall of wind, water and foam. In his attempt to maneuver the skiff, he wound up turning into the wind, which broke the steering, leaving Driscoll to float wherever the waves pushed him.

Managing to stay upright, Driscoll's boat drifted north and eventually landed on the west edge of Grassy Island on the northeast point of the Peninsula. In the midst of the wind and rain, he threw out the anchor but quickly realized that he was too far off shore to wade to shore. He then hunkered down and waited for the tide to go back out, where he was able to reach the shore - but his adventure wasn't over yet - a slough created an unexpected detour nearly as far west as the ocean beach.

Finally leaving the skiff on the shore, he trudged north through the brush, then rounded the tip of the Peninsula and continued south into the gusts through Leadbetter Point State Park. Though the winds were cold and strong, Driscoll notes that he was in good company, spotting eagles, elk, ducks and pelicans along his five-mile hike.

"Let's just say it was bad for my posture," laughs Driscoll. "I was really bent forward trying to get through that wind."

Once he reached the park's parking lot, he was rescued by Sheriff's Deputy Ron Clark, who drove him back to Oysterville. Sopping wet by then, Driscoll rode in the backseat. Upon arriving in Oysterville, he was greeted with tearful hugs, as he had told several people about his plans to hit the water that day. To Driscoll's relief, his parents, Les and Ann, were on vacation in Texas at the time and his 8-year-old daughter was unaware of his circumstances.

"But then they got mad at me and started second guessing what I had done," Driscoll admits.

Happy to be safe and sound, he waited out the storm back on land. In the meantime, friend John Heckes checked on the anchored scow and brought back good reports to Driscoll - it had survived the remaining days of the storm just fine.

"I asked him, 'Well what about my skiff?' He said, 'What skiff?'" Driscoll explains with a laugh. Initially, the skiff was nowhere to be found.
Tuesday night, he and Tim Braxton successfully returned to the scow Driscoll anchored Sunday morning. The pair searched for the skiff but only found the anchor, buried 18 inches under the sand, in its place. It was nearly a dark sky when something in the trees caught the corner of Driscoll's eye - something that was worthy of considering further inspection.

"I told Tim, 'I don't think that's the skiff, but it's close enough to check it out.'"

About one mile into the woods at the tip of the Peninsula sat the oysterman's skiff.

"It was bizarre, like something you'd see in a picture," he describes. "It's treacherous up there, there isn't much human contact there. There are areas with a quicksand effect and the water is shallow, the current is always changing. But for some reason, a herd of 20 to 25 elk was very interested in my boat!"

Later, Driscoll was able to anchor the boat down during a 15-minute window in the tide with the help of Dave Pickering.

Looking back at his adventure, he says, "I think my trip would've went fine, it would've been slow and unpleasant, but it would have been fine if the steering would've held."

Over the weekend, Driscoll and some friends checked on the boat only for Carson Kemmer to stumble across a human skull merely 20 feet west of the skiff. The discovery was reported to Pacific County Sheriff's Deputies Goodwin and Biggs. While more will be reported on this bizarre story at another time, Driscoll can't help but wonder if his boat was pushed in that direction for a reason. With the boat landing in such a remote location, the skull may never had been found otherwise.

On Monday afternoon Driscoll was able to recover his land-locked skiff with the help of Braxton, Dick Sheldon and George Hill. Sheldon towed the boat from the point back to Oysterville Sea Farms. Driscoll also expressed thanks to Ernie and Kevin Soule, Jim Taylor, Warren Cowell, Todd Brownlee and Kathy Strickland for their help and concern.

As for the boat, it is in great condition and will be put back into commission as soon as possible. After all, Les Driscoll always says, "This boat is just like the Titanic - it's unsinkable!"

As for Dan, he simply says, "All's well that ends well."

1 comment:

Mysterysong said...

hello have a beach close to the oyster factory and we know dan.