Fishermen rally to save sinking ship

F/V Cricket is damaged but still salvageable

Heather Burton had just gotten her newborn son to sleep when her husband, James, got the call — their boat, the F/V Cricket, was sinking in Cordova’s Small Boat Harbor.

The sleep-deprived new mother wasn’t sure what was going on at first but she knew it was dire. Her husband jumped out of bed and was out the door in 30 seconds.

“It was scary at first, obviously,” she said. “I felt like someone had died.”

Fortunately everyone involved was safe.

When James Burton, who is a Cordova City Council member and commercial fisherman, made it down to the harbor he found Bobby Linville and Doug Phillips trying to pump the water out.

James Burton pulled his bow picker around and also started pumping water. Phillips even tied his boat to the Cricket to keep it afloat but the damage had already been done.

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“The engine room was completely covered in water,” Heather Burton said. “The inside cabin on the lower level was ruined.”

The Cricket had just gotten a rebuilt transmission and was put back in water on June 29 in anticipation for the seine opener on July 1.

The Burtons blame valve malfunction for the incident.

“There was a valve that looked like it was in the closed position but was actually open, that allowed water into the fish hold and some hatches were open that allowed water into engine room,” she said.

Harbormaster Tony Schinella was down at the dock shortly after he heard the report of the Cricket taking on water.

“This one would have sunk if no one got down there,” he said.

It was Linville who had spotted the sinking cricket on his way out to fish the gillnet opener that morning.

“Bobby Linville is the real hero in the situation,” James Burton said. “If not for him the boat could have been on the bottom.”

Everything could have been destroyed, he said. And there could have been a diesel spill if Linville hadn’t stopped to help.

Many others also pitched in that day to stop the boat from completely going under.

“Basically everybody who was headed out for the gillnet opener, they stopped and didn’t go fishing so they could stay and help save the boat,” Heather Burton said.

The community support meant a lot to the Burton family.

“In this industry, you don’t have that long to make money, there’s only a few months to make your entire year’s living,” Heather Burton said. “For them to forego fishing and stay home meant so much to [James]. It brought both of us to tears.”

The boat means so much to her husband, Heather Burton said. Not only is it his livelihood, it’s also the boat he grew up fishing on.

“It’s very emotional for that to have happened,” she said.

And timing could not have been worse, as they were set to go out fishing the next day — Heather Burton with their 5-week old son Jackson James in tow. She is on maternity leave from her job at Wells Fargo.

“It’s been emotional and stressful because of the timing,” she said. “We have to have a boat in order to have an income this year.”

The Cricket is salvageable, but it will not be ready anytime this season. While her husband worked on a plan to fix the Cricket with Alpine Diesel, Heather Burton made calls to find a boat to lease this season. Nothing was available in state but she found a crab boat out of Bellingham, Wash. called the Vis that is available. James Burton and his father Carl went to Washington this week to pick it up and are currently on their way to Cordova. They are set to arrive Sunday to pick up Heather Burton and Jackson before heading out to fish.

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Brielle Schaeffer
Brielle Schaeffer is a freelance writer for the Cordova Times. A native of Eagle River, Brielle got her start reporting in and on Prince William Sound at the Valdez Star. She has also worked for Kenai's Peninsula Clarion, the Jackson Hole (Wyo.) News&Guide, the Center for Public Integrity and KCAW in Sitka. Brielle, a graduate of Washington State University's Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, currently lives and writes in Sitka. She can be reached at [email protected].