The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

Boats and snow don't mix well in Valdez

Fairbanks couple still dealing with aftermath of February sinking


Valdez Star photo

The beautiful clear skies seen at the small boat harbor hide the fact that heavy snows can hit the area very quickly, putting moored boats at risk of sinking from the unbalanced and often heavy weight.

The long-delayed winter weather that hit Valdez with a vengeance earlier in November has sent many scrambling to secure their possession for the long-winter months ahead.

Boat owners in Valdez have a particularly heavy burden when it comes to snow removal and the US Coast Guard has issued its yearly reminder that harbor users must "be aware of the dangers of snow loads on their vessels this winter in Alaskan ports."

Simply put, boat owners must be vigilant and keep their boats free of snow, whether the vessels are floating or dry docked.

Vessel owners Dan and Joanne Portwine learned the hard way.

The Rivendell, a boat the couple had owned for 30 years, sank last February in the Valdez small boat harbor after a heavy snowfall.

"Dealing with the aftermath has certainly been less than pleasant and not over yet," the couple said in an email to the Valdez Star Tuesday morning. "To those who have boats in the harbor, don't be complacent and naïve like us, and believe that because you pay your insurance, you are in good hands."

In a telephone interview Tuesday, Joanne Portwine said the couple hoped to spare other boat owners the grief, aggravation, costs and other negatives – including not being able to ply the waters of Port Valdez, like they'd done for over 30 years.

"Until it happens to you, you don't think about it," she said.

The couple has timely advice to boat owners, especially regarding insurance.

"Find your original policy, read it and keep it where it can be found," the Portwines said. "Any questions you may have, put them in writing to your agent and receive the answers in writing. You do not want to find that the cost of raising your boat and subsequent clean up has to be paid from your hull policy. These costs could easily exceed the vessels value with the owner left with nothing but a totaled boat and a bill."

A tough lesson to learn.

"It will be a lot of work to get it back in the water," Portwine said Tuesday, genuinely missing the good times to be had in Port Valdez. "Valdez has been our second home."

Until their boat sank.

Lt. Allie Ferko of the US Coast Guard has sage advice for all Alaska boat owners: Remove snow and ice accumulation, including clearing scuppers and check for excess leaks; also perform routine checks for signs of loose or deteriorating planks on wooden hulled vessels and conduct routine inspections of automatic bilge pumps and all thru-hull fittings for damage or loose connections.

Removing unnecessary fuel from the boat, updating contact information with the Valdez Small Boat Harbor and arranging reliable snow removal for both the boat and the finger pier which it occupies all winter are also highly recommended.

Valdez Star file photo

This boat sank in the small boat harbor last November after heavy snows weighed the vessel down.

"In years past, at least one boat per winter has sunk in the Valdez small boat harbor due to inattention to snow load or lack of proper maintenance," Ferko said in a press release. " The same issue has affected vessels in the harbors in Kodiak, on the Alaska Peninsula and in Southeast Alaska."

Ferko said Valdez-based Coast Guard personnel conduct daily winter harbor patrols to identify boats at risk for reduced stability and sinking, and works in partnership with harbor personnel to "to take immediate action to remove snow from vessels that are at imminent risk of sinking," the Coast Guard said. "If costs are associated with that action, those expenses are the vessel owner's responsibility."

Costs to clean up pollution from sinkings and refloat boats is expensive according to the Coast Guard - $10 to $30 thousand dollars. Fines up to $40,000 per day can also be levied.

Chicken feed compared to the cost of snow shoveling.


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