Freed at last from the mud of the Igushik River, the ill-fated fishing vessel Lone Star finally got under tow this week after sinking in late June.
The Lone Star only made it halfway to Dutch Harbor before bad luck intervened. Again.
Gale-force winds -- remnants of a typhoon that deluged Japan a few days ago ---forced the boat and two Resolve-Magone Marine Group vessels to hole up in protected waters near Port Moeller on Friday as 20-foot waves surged across the Bering Sea.
The stalled recovery marks the latest glitch in a season of trouble for the Lone Star, a 78-foot fishing vessel that sank June 30 in the river that feeds sockeye salmon into the world-class Bristol Bay fishery.
"This job has been a real pain from the beginning to the end," Magone Marine owner Dan Magone said by phone Friday from Dutch Harbor.
The boat's owners, Chuck and Lois Burrece, could not be reached Friday. They plan to decide whether to scrap the Lone Star once it reaches Dutch Harbor, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
The saga began on a Sunday in late June. A crew member radioed a call for help just before 7 a.m. A tide change shifted the boat's anchor chain, detaching lines and punching a hole in the hull.
The Lone Star overturned in 18 feet of water and partly submerged. A nearby vessel rescued four fishermen from the boat and took them to Dillingham in good condition.
Some 35,000 pounds of salmon aboard festered for three months. The Lone Star also sank with 14,000 gallons of diesel and smaller amounts of lube oil, hydraulic fluid and gasoline. It wasn't clear Friday just how much diesel and other pollutants crews eventually removed.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game reported a narrow, 4-mile-long sheen extending from the capsized, partly submerged vessel at the time of the sinking.
The state closed commercial fishing in the area for about two weeks.
Diesel spilling from the Lone Star also ended some set-net and subsistence salmon fishing for the season, particularly for Manokotak tribal residents and other Nushugak Bay residents fishing at a seasonal camp in Igushik, according to Helen Aderman, marine mammal program manager for the Bristol Bay Native Association.
"My brothers and nephews, they quit two weeks early. They were done by mid-July because some of their fish was starting to smell like oil," Aderman said.
From the beginning, bad weather and strong currents combined to stymie recovery attempts, Magone said. Questions about insurance set back the schedule too.
As the days passed, the boat sank deeper and deeper in the sandy mud of the river channel. Silt oozed in through two broken pilot house windows.
By this month crews hauled the boat off the bottom with chains wrapped around the hull and a crane set up on a barge. Then they had to remove the mud that filled the Lone Star's forward half, from engine room to pilot house.
"It wouldn't float until we got all the mud out of it," Magone said. "It took days to hose all that mud out of there and pump the thing out."
The trip to Dutch Harbor started on Wednesday, with the Lone Star under tow by the 68-foot tug Double Eagle and the 86-foot response vessel Western Viking along for support.
By Thursday night, the weather closed in. The three-vessel armada and a total of 10 crew anchored up at the sheltered head of Herendeen Bay near Port Moller, halfway down the Alaska Peninsula.
The barge with the crane that hauled up the Lone Star remained in place Friday. Fog delayed a crew including Magone's son that planned to fly from Dillingham and land on the beach near the barge Thursday to help move it, Magone said.
"My crews are all scattered hither and yon," he said.
Magone said the soonest the Lone Star could reach Dutch Harbor is some time Monday, if the weather calms by Sunday.
The strong low pressure system buffeting the Bering is expected to last through Saturday night, said National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Burling. By Sunday, seas should drop from 20 feet to 10, Burling said.
By early next week, he said, seas should drop to 7 to 10 feet - better weather for towing an unlucky fishing vessel.
By ZAZ HOLLANDER