“As Jan was stepping off the bow, the stern was taking on all the water and starting to curl under. So 2 seconds later and he probably wouldn’t have been able to get off,” Kayla Breeden described to KDLG news the last moments of her family’s Bristol Bay salmon gillnetter F/V Kristi.
A husband and wife team, Jan Medhaug and Breeden, were fishing the flood tide with deckhand Kyle Brojakowski in Nushagak Bay off Clarks Point on Friday, July 13. Shortly after midnight, the 32-foot aluminum boat lost power.
While Medhaug and Brojakowski tried to restore power, Bredeen hung a protective buoy off the stern. She made note of the 400-foot cargo ship Sohoh and the 330-foot processing boat Gordon Jensen about 15 feet apart and “three football fields away,” she reported, or about 1,000 feet. The Kristi was reportedly drifting at about 5 knots, or about 500 feet per minute.
Shortly after Breeden dropped the buoy over the stern, the Kristi struck the processor and became lodged between the big ships, “pushed up against their Yokohama fender that was between the two of them,” Medhaug told KDLG. “We started to violently smash between the two vessels.”
The Gordon Jensen crew responded to a radio call from Medhaug and lifted Breeden in a basket. When she was safely aboard the processor, she asked the crew if that was as scary as it had seemed to her.
“They were looking at me like I was a ghost almost,” Breeden said.
Medhaug and Brojakowski remained on the Kristi for about another 20 minutes, hoping to get her situated to get through the tide so they could get her away from the fender at slack tide and out of the steel ship alleyway.
But Breeden could see from the deck of the processor that water was building up in the stern picking area. The two men escaped onto the fender with one last screech of twisting metal just before the gillnetter flipped bow over stern and sank in a flash. They came aboard the Gordon Jensen in the same rescue basket.
Medhaug has been fishing in Bristol Bay for 25 years, 17 of those on the Kristi. The Seattle-based couple had planned to retire the ship at the end of the summer. They hope to be back next summer with a new boat.
The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating the incident and working with Medhaug on a salvage plan. Neither of the other vessels has reported any damage.
“I think we can all learn from what did happen,” Breeden said, “and thank God for all the other fishermen out there that help each other and the way it is here in Alaska and on the river.”