When we towed our floathouses here and settled in, we found a fishing boat on the beach with its bottom torn out and it’s name, “Daybreak” painted on its stern. I’d heard locally that it struck the rocks right outside our little tidal lagoon during a winter storm and was a complete loss. I’ve always wanted to know more about it and have done research online. I even requested the help of an experienced “shipwreck finder,” Captain Warren Good at alaskashipwreck.com. But we found almost nothing.
Until last month when a man reading one of my old columns contacted me by email, introducing himself simply as Dan. He’d wrecked in his fishing boat here in 1988, a year before we moved here.
Dan Pryse’s story:
I was only 24 when I lost the Daybreak. I have not even thought about her in years. It was my own fault. It was snowing and blowing about 35 out of the northwest at 2 am on December 13th. We had been up for 2 day’s fishing and were greedy for Christmas money. We were setting longline gear south in the direction of Meyers Chuck.
I was on deck helping set up a string in the pitch black lit by deck lights when the rising wind and storm tide pushed me right to the rocks.
I heard a noise and looked around the wheelhouse to see huge breakers. Waves were crashing on rocks that had gotten far too close. I didn’t make it back to the wheelhouse in time to turn her. She ran hard aground with a rock right under the stern. She just commenced to beat herself to death. At the time only the tip of the rock was exposed, the size of a Volks Wagon.
I was trying to put out a mayday when the back door blew out, then the seas smashed the window’s out. The waves even knocked the Pacific cook stove loose and I never saw it again. A huge swell came in and lifted the whole boat and dropped her… This blew out all the floorboards and I was walking on the frame above the engine.
The Coast Guard cutter Plaintree was passing on the way to Ketchikan and heard my call. The Captain said there were not enough lives in jeopardy and he would not send a boat or crew till morning.
We were not on the same schedule–we needed help NOW.
As I was calling him every choice name I could muster the Post Master from Meyers Chuck, Steve Johnson on the vessel Grizzly Bear, broke in and said he’d help us since the Coast Guard would not. He and another guy in a 16 foot Boston Whaler came out that night in the storm and got us.
When we got to Meyers Chuck a Coast Guard skiff dropped a pump on the dock. A crewman said the Plaintree was going to Ketchikan and was wasting no more time. It would not have mattered as the Daybreak was a total loss.
If not for the Post Master Steve Johnson and Art Forbes I think was the second man, we would for sure have died.The Post Master and his wife Ruth even let me stay in their home before taking me to Ketchikan. What truly kind people.
Dan is correct–the locals he mentions are kind people. Steve and Ruth ran the small market and fish buying station in Meyers Chuck when they lived here in the Eighties. During school we’d run down during the lunch break and buy candy from Ruthie, who was a lovely, generous and supportive woman. Their son, Ryan, was best friends with Noah Forbes, who was the son of the other local mentioned in Dan’s story, Art Forbes (we now own his Boston Whaler mentioned in Dan’s account).
Art is married to Linda, who features prominently in my memoir Raised in Ruins. I also talk about taking my siblings to school in a homemade 16-foot wooden skiff on this very stretch of water that has caused more than one shipwreck. (My memoir is available for pre-ordering by clicking on the cover of the photo top right, or at Raised in Ruins : A Memoir
I asked Dan if he had any photos of the Daybreak and he replied: “No I have no photos. I lived on the Daybreak and only had one boat payment left. I lost absolutely everything including photos. And I had no insurance, just a borrowed pair of boots from [Steve].”
He helped fill out the details, though: The Daybreak was a 36 foot Columbia River freighter for the canneries and logging outfits. It was built in Oregon in 1935 and modified to a pleasure boat in the 70’s. Jim and Gayle Eastwood of Petersburg purchased it and made a longliner out of it. Dan bought it in 1985 or 1986.
I asked Dan what he did after the wreck of the Daybreak and he replied: “I fished every fishery from Puget Sound salmon to 14 winters in Dutch Harbor and I was the deckboss on the world’s biggest Longliner in Siberia Russia right after communism fell. 7 years in Bristol Bay and every longline season in the Gulf and Southeast salmon and 3 salmon season’s in Kodiak. I’m getting seasick just thinking about it.”
I’m encouraging him to write his memoir; he has an amazing fund of true life adventure stories to tell. (Dan Pryse also became a tenacious whistleblower whose testimony helped bring down an official seeking a presidentially-appointed position. You can read about it here: https://www.alaskapublic.org/2011/09/26/former-crew-members-attempted-to-turn-in-fuglvog/ )
What a fascinating story! I’m glad you solved the mystery and shared the solution with us.
10/24/2019 08:36:44 pm
I knew the Daybreak was familiar…but couldn’t attach an owner to it. Yes…Jim and Gayle Eastwood fished the boat out of Petersburg.
Wendy G Forsythe
10/25/2019 05:55:07 am
How very interesting!
10/26/2019 08:13:31 pm
Amazing story. You’ve brought history alive here, Tara. I can’t imagine how it felt to hear the Coast Guard value your life at nothing. Can’t. Imagine.
11/16/2019 12:33:14 pm
What a story, thank you and thanks to Dan for sharing it.
A few years
ago an Alaska friend clued me in to the true story of another shipwreck off of the Alaska coast that took place in the 70’s, a dad and his 5 children.
Perhaps you know the name of that book?
11/17/2019 02:21:45 pm
Are you sure it was five children and not three? If it WAS three, this could be the book you are seeking, recounting an event from 1979:
Almost Too Late: The True Story of a Father and His Three Children Shipwrecked Off the Coast of Wintry Alaska (Hardcover)
by Elmo Wortman (Author)
–Meyers Chuck Research Bureau
12/17/2019 02:37:06 pm
My memory is that Elmo had 5 children – yes that is the book – but
that one of the girls wasn’t with them. I know the other two girls
were left where marrooned while Elmo and his son – or sons – decided
to try and find some help.
But that is the story for sure.
The rescued girls were brought to the hospital in Ketchikan, and I worked there a couple of decades later.
1/25/2020 08:33:50 am
I love this story. Can’t wait for the book. Preordering today!
Here’s a list of my books
Sandi (Johnson) Schafer
8/6/2020 12:57:46 pm
I just finished your book and am so sad that it ended! I hope you write more! I love your writing style!
I just found your blog and then see a picture of the same boat that I took pictures of with my sons standing on it, the last time I was in Myers Chuck! Same hull numbers!
I am Sterling & Ethan’s great Aunt, Bret, Traci & Josh’s Aunt, Don Johnsons sister. My Mom lived in Myers Chuck for a few years, her name was Donna. Did you ever meet her?
I tried to find you on Facebook to tag you when I post about reading your book. Do you have a Facebook account?