Eyak Salvaged, Back In Sitka

The Eyak bids goodbye to the tugboat Marauder, which brought it into Sitka Channel. (KCAW photo/Rachel Waldholz)
The Eyak bids goodbye to the tugboat Marauder, which brought it into Sitka Channel. (KCAW photo/Rachel Waldholz)

The Eyak is back in Sitka.

Ten days after the 80-foot tender and mail boat ran aground and sank just north of the Goddard hot springs, it’s back afloat — after a virtual alphabet soup of state and federal agencies and local companies worked together to salvage it.

At about 3 p.m. on Friday afternoon (1-30-15),  the tugboat Marauder chugged into Sitka Channel with the Eyak in tow. Those watching as the vessel was tied up at Sitka Sound Seafoods said the plan for now is to take the Eyak to Wrangell for repairs.

Michael Wortman, the head of the Coast Guard marine safety detachment in Sitka, said that in total, the Eyak spilled about twenty gallons of fuel — a fraction of the 800 to 1,000 gallons the boat was believed to have on board.

“We, honestly, got really lucky,” Wortman said. “Since the vessel inverted, all the oil was trapped inside,  and SEAPRO and SEAL did a great job preventing a lot more from being discharged into the water.”

The vessel was upside down in forty feet of water, Wortman said, which counter-intuitively limited leaking.

And Wortman said most of what was spilled was soaked up with absorbent material by the Southeast Alaska Petroleum Response Organization, or SEAPRO, the agency tasked with responding to local spills.

The Eyak is a crucial lifeline for the small communities of southern Baranof Island.

Mayor Debra Gifford, of Port Alexander, said the Eyak’s owner and captain, David Castle, has been supplying the town for more than two decades. Finding someone to fill the gap will be hard, Gifford said.

“It’s going to be kind of difficult because the Eyak was a multi-service operation,” she said. “Because they did all those things — the mail, the freight, buying fish — he was able to make a living doing those. But to do any single one of those is not super cost-effective, so we probably are going to have to think about the future here, to consolidate things and only get stuff in once a month or every few months. I’m just not really sure how that is going to play out yet.”

But for now, the town’s 45 year-round residents are in good shape, Gifford said. Castle owns a second, smaller boat, the Silver Arrow, which is taking mail and groceries down to Port Alexander while the Eyak is out of commission. Fuel comes in on a separate barge.

So while there’s no way to get, say, a couch or a new washing machine, or lumber for a building project, nobody is in dire straits.

“Everyone’s got food to eat and that kind of thing,” Gifford said. “I think mostly people, off the bat, are pretty heartbroken for Dave Castle.  The loss of the Eyak is more than just him bringing us stuff, it’s his home, and it’s a lifestyle for him to come out here and, you know, be a part of the infrastructure of our community. He’s a good friend to all of us out here.”

The Coast Guard’s Wortman said Castle had insurance, which is paying for the salvage operation. Friends also set up a fundraising campaign for Castle. So far, it has raised over $25,000.