“At one point, I feel like my arm is failing, my body is cramping, and I’m losing control of my dexterity,” remembers Kaleb Westfall, F / V Peter captain. “These thoughts creep into your head that you can’t do this forever. You’re going to fail and it’s hard to multitask and dismiss those thoughts and I had to do it one wave at a time.
Kaleb Westfall has been fishing for salmon in Bristol Bay for two decades.
Earlier this month he was fishing for halibut in the waters near Togiak. He and his teammate were on their way to Dillingham when his return trip encountered an unwanted storm as the winds and waves picked up.
“We got to the corner of Protection (Point) and then it was a direct easterly wind on the other side over there,” Westfall said.
He had expected four-foot waves on his return trip, but encountered giant swells after circling around the tip of the Nushagak Peninsula.
“Those four-foot waves were now over 16, and every now and then 20,” he said. “Riding a 32-footer on these – a little difficult, absolutely.”
A strong easterly wind forced him to keep the bow of his boat, the F / V Peter, pointed towards the King Salmon to face the swell. When the waves hit his boat, he realized they needed help.
“First we turned on the radio and made a distress ship and explained that we are not sinking, but any wave here could pick us up and capsize us,” he said. .
As they called for help, fatigue began to set in.
“At some point, I think my arm is failing, my body is cramping, and I lose control of my dexterity,” Westfall recalls. “These thoughts creep into your head that you can’t do this forever. You’re going to fail and it’s hard to multitask and dismiss those thoughts and I had to do it one wave at a time.
Westfall said they were about five miles from shore. He didn’t get her call answered right away, but he continued to reach out.
“Through the AMSEA training, they say that even if you can’t hear anyone, keep barking because they might hear you and you might not be able to hear them back,” he said.
As it turned out, several people heard his call – the Coast Guard flew to the scene by helicopter and OBI Seafoods sent out a tender for 100 feet. The dinghy broke the waves and allowed Westfall to follow its waves while the Coast Guard monitored the situation.
Westfall said he was lucky to return to shore and that was thanks to the extra effort he put into the security measures.
“It turned out to be a hellish storm, but all my training and all my safety gear worked,” he said. “I tell people that I work really hard and 95% of the time it doesn’t matter, but 5% of the time there is an opportunity for things to get better or for this hard work to happen. bearing fruit. “
Westfall thanked his training with the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association to help him maximize his chances of survival.
“I don’t think I would have been as comfortable or maybe not without the AMSEA training. It’s a wonderful program, ”he said.
They returned to Dillingham harbor around 2 a.m. the next morning after battling the storm for around 8 hours.
“I had to make this decision on ‘How long can I do this?’ The whole thing took 25 hours from Togiak, so I was driving 25 hours straight and about half of those hours were panic hours, ”he said.
Westfall urged everyone on the water to make sure their safety gear is up to date – and to prepare for emergencies.
You can find more information about AMSEA and its training at www.amsea.org. In the event of an emergency, the Coast Guard can be reached at (907) 463-2000.
Contact the author at [email protected] or 907-842-2200.