Tales from the chart – The Erria (interview by D. Kanally)

The Fire Aboard the Erria – December 1951
An Interview with Don Fastabend by David Kanally.
This interview and additional information on the Astoria Marine Construction Company and Joe Dyer’s boats may be found at Columbia River One Design
Original archival materials are stored at the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, OR.
Photos courtesy of Cliff West.

The Erria under Tow after the fire was put out

The Erria under Tow after the fire was put out

(Ed note: On December 20th, 1951, the Danish Freighter Erria caught fire while anchored in the Columbia River along the shores of East Astoria , Oregon . Eleven souls were lost in the fire. Don Fastabend, owner of Astoria Marine Construction Company (AMCCO), was a machinist lead for the firm at the time, working at their Tongue Point facility. He was called, along with many of his colleagues, to help fight the blaze. His account of the dramatic incident follows.)

“The Erria had been in Portland and was headed out to sea, but the Columbia Bar was rough that night, so they decided to anchor in the river near East Astoria until things calmed down. About 1 or 2 a.m. on December 20th, they started to pick anchor and something went wrong. Some people believe that the wiring to the motor on the anchor windlass caught fire. That wiring ran through the #3 hold, and that was the worst burned of the whole ship.In any case the fire was discovered. Erria was a combination freight and passenger vessel, so there were crew and passengers aboard. They immediately launched the lifeboats and rowed to the nearby Coast Guard station. The Coast Guard and the Navy responded and squirted water on the fire for a while, but pulled off by 4 or 5 o’clock the next afternoon. The ship had listed pretty badly, and the fire was still going strong.

Smoke is billowing not from the fire, but from an auxiliary motor used to power the anchor windlass. Bob West photo, 1952.

Smoke is billowing not from the fire, but from an auxiliary motor used to power the anchor windlass. Bob West photo, 1952.

A salvage company was called in, and their representative, Captain Whitmore, showed up in town and inquired at the Chamber of Commerce, looking for which companies controlled the local labor market. AMCCO had about 400-500 people working then, so was a prime labor source. The word went out at the Tongue Point facility, “Don’t go home tonight at quitting time.”

Whitmore arrived on the scene at Tongue Point and began asking where CO2 could be obtained. We knew that the Navy kept CO2 in a hangar at Pier 3 at Tongue Point . So Whitmore called the officer on duty…it was the end of the day and all the brass had gone home, so the duty officer was probably an Ensign. Whitmore introduced himself as Captain Whitmore (a rank possibly attained in the Merchant Marine), but the young Ensign took him for a Navy four striper!So the Ensign called out the duty section and the CO2 was promptly delivered to Whitmore. This worked so well, that our boss, Johnny Cederberg, thought Whitmore should try the same tactic to get a vessel to carry the CO2 and the crew out to the Erria.

It worked again, and before we knew it we had a LCM 6 (a 56-foot landing craft) with fire monitors and a Navy crew!

The Erria anchored just off East Astoria. Bob West photo, 1952.

The Erria anchored just off East Astoria. Bob West photo, 1952.

We rigged up a manifold arrangement for the CO2 tanks that allowed us to change out tanks and keep the CO2 flowing. We journeyed out and came alongside the Erria. The side of the ship was just glowing red with heat in the engine room, where the hottest part of the fire was. We played water with the fire monitor on the side of the ship ’til it cooled enough that we could hold the bow of the M boat against it.

We burned a 3” hole in the side of the ship and started dumping CO2 inside the ship. By morning the engine room fire was out. We came back ashore for a while at that point, to get more CO2. There wasn’t any more from the Navy supply, but we knew there was CO2 aboard Navy ships, so we began “acquiring” more.

By about 8:30 or so, the Lieutenant Commander in charge of repair operations at the shipyard came up to me and asked me what we were doing, so I told him about what we were up to. He also wondered who the hell Whitmore was, and pretty soon, Whitmore was gone and they took the landing craft back and we all went home and got some sleep.

The next day we all met at the dock of Arrow Tug and Barge and met up with Mr. Martinoni, who was the president of the salvage company. He stayed with us until the bodies were recovered and the fire was put out.

We used a barge to haul pumps out, and we pulled alongside the Erria and began pumping water into and out of the ship. We’d feel along for hot spots, burn a hole and pour in water. The fire was mostly between decks.

I found the first two bodies by the doorway on the main promenade deck, two young women crew members.

The other people who died were sitting in chairs in the lounge just off the boat deck. We figured, since there was no power to the davits that the crew had to lower the lifeboats down to deck level manually, and these people were waiting for that operation to take place, and were overcome by smoke and gasses. One of them was trying to get out on his hands and knees, but got trapped in a corner. Another guy tried to go back to his stateroom to get something, and never made it back. We pretty much swept him up with a broom.

The deck was all teak, and heavily oiled, and there were a lot of hardwoods used in the construction, and lots of varnish, so that would make for bad fumes and gasses.

We only saved one hold, hold #5.

Eventually we got a lot of the water pumped out and the ship leveled out.

The Erria was quite a ship. She even had a swimming pool. One of the holds, hold #4, was refrigerated and was full of apples. The fire got into the insulation of the refrigerated spaces and caused us to wonder what would have happened if all those apples would have burst at once!

We all worked day and night, with not very much sleep, to get that fire out. I’ll never forget that I earned $600 the week of Christmas. And our normal wage back then was $1.85 an hour, so $600 was very big money for that time.

The Erria being towed by the Zwarte Zee. Bob West photo, 1952.

The Erria being towed by the Zwarte Zee. Bob West photo, 1952.

Anyway, the Erria was eventually towed to dry dock in Portland , to be completely checked out to be sure she was seaworthy to be towed back to Europe for rebuilding . She was brought back down to Astoria, and anchored at just about the same spot where the fire happened, while she waited for her tow by the tug Zwarte Zee.

The Zwarte Zee. Bob West photo, 1952.

The Zwarte Zee. Bob West photo, 1952.

She was rebuilt as a freight-only vessel and made it back to the Columbia River once that I know of. I remember one more funny thing: When we got to the crew quarters in the aft section of the ship, we found a stash of Danish 9% beer, which was pretty darn good. When the crew came back and found out what had happened to their beer, they were pretty mad at us, so we went out and bought them some Lucky Lager. They gave it one taste and weren’t very happy. They said “This stuff is like Kool-Aid!”
Links:
(and thank you) The original story hosted on Columbia River One Design’s website
Columbia River Maritime Museum

West coast fishery most deadly

An AP article published April 25, 2008 claims that the coasts of Oregon, Washington and California have claimed more lives even than Alaska waters, including the Bering Sea, where Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch is filmed. (Click to read the article)
“The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health released a report Thursday detailing the hazards of fishing off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington. The report said those three states combined for a fatality rate more than twice as high as the national commercial fishing average between the years of 2000 and 2006.”
One of the somber features of Dead Reckoning of the Pacific Graveyard includes a list of lost fishing vessels from the region. It is the most complete list of lost fishing vessels to date. The list was obtained from multiple local, long-time fishermen, their families, local publications and Coast Guard reports.
A list of lost fishing vessels from the Oregon and Washington coast
A detail photo of the lost fishing vessels list, printed on handmade paper using an antique letter press by Oblation Papers in Portland, Oregon.
The result is a respectful, enduring memorial to the lives lost in the commercial fishing industry of the Oregon and Washington coasts.
The list is featured on the premium framed chart by NW Limited…History in VogueTM as shown below:

Dead Reckoning of the Pacific Graveyard by NW Limited...History in Vogue of Astoria, Oregon

503-338-6056 or bill@nwlimited.com to find out more

Trash or treasure?

The New Carissa is getting another set of walking papers.
Removal is slated to begin this week.
The goal is to have her gone, but she won’t soon be forgotten.
Nine years have passed since the 1500-ton ship hit the beach north of Coos Bay, during a February storm.  Her carcass remains a grim reminder that shipwrecks are not just history, they are a fact of life in the maritime industry.
Lacking the charm of some of the more recent, historic wrecks that have surfaced, the New Carissa is considered to be more of an eyesore to some. There is argument to the contrary…
The ship’s wreckage should be completely removed by October, along with the expenditure of $16.4 million more dollars.
Whether you’re going to get a last look at the New Carissa, or a peek at the newly revealed George L. Olson, the Bella, Acme, possibly to search for something new from the USS Shark,  be cautious, and mind the dangerous surf at the Oregon coast.
The same holds true for Washington’s beaches, of course.
Lost treasure, history and sightseeing may be the lure, but danger lurks for more than just boats and ships.

Still, it begs the question: What might the M/V New Carissa look like in 100 years or so?

The shipwreck Peter Iredale (photo ca. 1/2008), grounded in 1906,
is considered a local treasure for its tourist
attraction and aesthetic interest.


102 years ago…

The New Carissa today…(taken from the KCBY website)

Links:
Shipwreck set for wrecking (Eugene Register-Guard)
Beach explorers urged to keep eye on ocean(Newport News-Times)
Hoping to save the New Carissa shipwreck (KCBY)

Dead Reckoning of the Pacific Graveyard shipwreck chart

The “Pacific Graveyard” has been claiming victims ever since man endeavored to set sail over these treacherous waters. 
Ships, boats, men and cargo have been lost over centuries.
Bill Brooks spent the better part of four years researching this chart, and fine-tuning every aspect. 
There were literally oceans of material to sort through and condense into what you see before you, “Dead Reckoning of the Pacific Graveyard.” 
Dead Reckoning is a gathering of unprecedented proportions, a gift of local maritime history.

Here is a preview  (click for slideshow and to hear the radio ad currently running) of what you’ll receive if you purchase one for yourself (click on the image and you’ll be able to almost read the text and get a better idea of the infinite detail in these handsome lithographs):



Framed version #3 of 500  “Framed tube” $225 Lithograph-$50
           $500. 

Much of this region’s history revolves around the sea.
Even before Lewis & Clark’s arrival, there are records of shipwrecks, and of their mysterious circumstances; tales of treasure, heroic survival and tragic losses.
Within this one document you will find the stories of hundreds of Oregon and Washington shipwrecks.
Enough to whet your intellectual appetite, and quench your thirst for American history as well as staunch your cravings for a visual feast for they are truly a work of art.

Available now through NW Limited…History in VogueTM
call 503-338-6056 

Wreck of the Lupatia – Jan. 3, 1881

An excerpt from NW Limited’s ‘Dead Reckoning of the Pacific Graveyard’ chart reads:
“Lupatia -1/3/1881- British bark: A south-easterly gale throws Lupatia onto Tillamook reef; a dog survives -16 dead”

One can imagine her final hours. A bleak, January night with the wind and surf shattering her against the rocks mere weeks before the Tillamook Lighthouse, a/k/a “Terrible Tilly” was to be lit.
The crew working on construction of that lighthouse saw Lupatia’s running lights as she approached.  In the near-miss incident,  they could hear Lupatia’s crew shouting orders of “Hard apart!” as they scrambled to keep her off the rock which so desperately needed a light as warning. 
 The construction crew kindled fires, and used lanterns to try and assist the captain as he navigated the rock-strewn reef.   Narrowly missing the rock itself, she disappeared into the darkness.
Lupatia’s debris littered the rocks below the nearly complete lighthouse the following morning.  16 lives lost…
 Would her fate have been the same had her captain had that light to use as guide?
 Unlike the Peter Iredale, or the George L. Olson, nothing remains of the Lupatia, no structure to climb and explore, no resting place to visit.
NW Limited’s historic achievement of the most detailed and complete shipwreck chart to date, immortalizes her.
The lithograph alone is a great place to start when looking for shipwreck history, but the framed and matted version  (left) is an adventure of its own with its photographs of shipwrecks, United States Coast Guard insignia and USPS stamp, the lost fishing vessels and more, all displayed within a high-quality, hand-finished frame.

Each chart is custom-built by Bill Brooks of NW Limited in Astoria, Oregon and no two will be exactly alike.
While you can’t take home the George L. Olson,
or the bowsprit of the Peter Iredale, you can
have “Dead Reckoning of the Pacific Graveyard,” your own magnificent gathering of maritime history in the Pacific Northwest.
bill@nwlimited.com or 503-338-8215

The Tao of Wow…

Wow is a word that crosses language barriers; there is no mistaking what it means.
For those that aren’t so sure:

wow 1 (wou) Informal
interj.
Used to express wonder, amazement, or great pleasure.
n.
An outstanding success.
tr.v. wowed, wow·ing, wows
To have a strong, usually pleasurable effect on: a performance that wowed the audience.

We specialize in “WOW“.
For giving or getting, NW Limited…History in VogueTM is in a class by itself.
Book your ticket : Email bill@nwlimited.com or call 503-338-6056 

See us this weekend at America’s Largest Collectible & Antique Show in Portland, Oregon at the Portland Expo Center just off I-5 near Delta Park/Jantzen Beach.

Fishing for words?

If you’re in town for the 11th annual Fisher Poet’s Gathering, you might come on up to NW Limited…History in VogueTM and have a look at our newest offering of Dead Reckoning of the Pacific Graveyard, featuring a list of the lost fishing vessels from the region. We are just two minutes from downtown on the hillside overlooking the Columbia River. Call for your appointment: 503-338-6056
The commercial fishing industry is a dangerous one, and while many of the boats on the list went down without a life lost (and often thanks to the heroic United States Coast Guard), there will always be those vessel names associated with the sudden loss of peers.
The list of fishing vessels is featured on handmade paper, and printed using an antique letter press; giving a tactile depth to the dates and the names which are so evocative of a way of life on the edge.
This is just one aspect of this magnificent gathering of maritime history, one which encompasses the lives of those we lost while working on the sea, and the memories we all share as part of this community. 
The list of lost vessels in itself speaks volumes of the ultimate price paid for the living made on the sea.  Where words fail, all that is needed are the dates and the names…most of us know the rest.
Custom tributes within this run of 500 matted, framed charts are more than welcome, since each framed chart is hand-built and assembled right here in Astoria, Oregon.
Call or email Bill to see how we can immortalize your memories. 503-338-6056