UPDATE | Sleeping skipper puts boat ashore near Columbia Beach

The cabin cruiser On Tap sits high and dry Tuesday south of Clinton after the people onboard fell asleep and their autopilot malfunctioned. - Jeff VanDerford
The cabin cruiser On Tap sits high and dry Tuesday south of Clinton after the people onboard fell asleep and their autopilot malfunctioned.
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford

Welcome to Whidbey.

Two couples on a pleasure cruise from Tacoma to La Conner made an unscheduled stop on Whidbey Island a mile from the Clinton ferry dock when their 45-foot boat slammed into the shore Tuesday afternoon after the crew at the controls apparently dozed off.

No one was hurt in the mishap.

“The two girls were sleeping down below and my friend and I fell asleep on the flying bridge,” said owner Ted Christensen, 84. “The autopilot malfunctioned and here we are.”

Christensen estimates the boat was traveling north through Possession Sound at roughly

12 knots, or about 14 mph, when it crashed onto the shore near Columbia Beach at 3:15 p.m. Tuesday.

The main damage was to the skipper’s pride.

“I’ve been boating since 1954 and never had a problem,” Christensen said as he crab-walked across the slanting deck of his beached vessel.

Bill Couch, a resident near Columbia Beach where the boat came ashore, said he saw the vessel approach the beach at a high rate of speed.

“I saw the boat go by here and thought, ‘Geeze, he’s heading into shore a little quick,’” Couch said.

“He was going full bore and then smack! Right onto the beach,” he said.

Couch said he called 911 while another resident ran down the beach to see if the crew was OK.

Christensen said that, after a quick check of the bilges for standing water, there didn’t appear to be any hull damage.

The skipper and his passengers had departed the Tacoma Yacht Club at 10:45 that morning for the cruise to La Conner.

The boat, a 45-foot Tollycraft named On Tap, sat on a 40-degree angle on the pebbled beach, its bow stem resting lightly on a driftwood log.

“Without the log, we’d have gone into the woods,” joked passenger Chris Nyvall.

Later that evening at high tide, two powerful 27-foot tugboats from Vessel Assist in Everett arrived on the scene.

“We hooked up and started pulling in tandem at 11:40 p.m.,” said Capt. Dan Fry. “It took about 10 minutes and she floated free. One of our tugs took her back to Tacoma for repairs.”

Fry added that Christensen reported no water in the bilges, but there may have been damage to the props and shafts.

“And I think a rudder may have come loose,” he added. “It probably wasn’t the best day of the boat- owner’s life.”

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