by Cara Russell
Yesterday, Sept. 13, Suzanne Lyons, longtime island resident and owner of Orcas Arts, was catching the 12:35 p.m. sailing from Anacortes to Orcas to Island. The boat was intending to make a stop at every island. Lyons was trying to get some sleep in her vehicle on the car deck as the ferry left Lopez Island.
She says she never saw any fog on the water.
After the ferry left the Lopez dock, and was making a turn to head towards Shaw Island, Lyons was sitting in her car on the lower starboard side of the ferry. The ferry had just pulled out of Lopez. “I only saw the mast of the 35- ft. wooden sailboat, then I heard a crash,” she said. The ferry immediately revved its engines, to either stop or go in reverse. Then, she said, she saw the mast fall over. Then she heard a loud crunch: “There was a mast parallel to me, right by the ferry. I heard a screech, and the mast fell over.”
Lyons immediately got out of her car and looked over the edge of the boat. She saw the sailboat half under the ferry, and the bow of the boat was above the water. She saw an elderly man standing at the very bow. The ferry passed the sailboat and by that time the boat was well on its way to sinking. “He had just passed the ferry, and got tagged at the end,” Lyons said.
The crew was trying to get the lifeboat off the ferry, and it jammed, so then they “all went running to the back of the boat. That lifeboat went down into the water, and then they went buzzing over to the little boat, and everyone on the ferry was looking over the side.”
The Sheriff’s boat came out from Orcas; Undersheriff Bruce Distler was on that boat, along with two deputies. They pulled up along the sinking vessel with the lifeboat crew from the ferry, assessing the situation. The sailboat was sinking, and Lyons yelled to them, “ride-em cowboy!”
The alarm “freaked everyone out,” she says, because there was no announcement. “It was so surreal, the sound was unbelievable. It sounded like steel and crunching, like wood being crunched. However, everybody was very calm, she says—the ferry workers, the passengers.
After the ferry pulled into the Orcas Island ferry landing, Lyons noted “It was right by the spot where the Elwha ran aground.”