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Down it went right there

Tsunami sinks LO man's schooner at Brookings harbor
by: SUBMITTED PHOTO The Lion’s Whelp is shown as it starts to sink below the surface at Port of Brookings Harbor last Friday after the tsunami. Lake Oswego native Bob Butson suffered a total loss in the disaster.

Lake Oswego native Robert 'Bob' Butson is asking, 'What next?' after his 92-foot schooner was sunk by the tsunami that hit last Friday at Brookings.

'I lost everything I have except the clothes on my back and my dog,' Butson said.

The same tsunami that plowed through Japan also rolled over several Oregon coastal cities in a fast-striking disaster that left dozens of other boat owners in the same position as Butson, who was standing on the deck of his schooner almost until the moment that it started sinking.

'When I went down below deck the water was already a foot deep,' Butson said. 'When I went back out, the Coast Guard, police and fire department were all there. They said I had to leave. Down it went right there.'

The weather in the Brookings area has been 'cruel,' even dangerous, due to vicious windstorms in recent months, but nobody was prepared for such a disaster.

'I got up early in the morning and turned on a weather channel,' Butson said. 'I heard about the earthquake in Japan around 7 or 7:30, and I thought, 'That's quite a deal.' I thought it would hit Hawaii before it got to Oregon, but I packed up my dog and shaving kit and drove up town.

'I went on top of a hill overlooking the harbor. The waves started coming in slowly, then they got larger. It got to the point it looked like it was subsiding or not getting worse. I went back down to the dock and helped tie up some boats. I thought the worst had gone through by 11 o'clock.'

Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come. All of the pilings holding down the deck were snapped, and Butson's schooner was torn loose, along with several other boats. The schooner became pinned against the dock, and a basketball-size hole was poked into its side that allowed water to pour in.

Butson went onto his boat and tried to lash it down, but the leaks were too large.

'It was the only ride I ever got to go on after I bought it,' he said. 'It hadn't even moved.'

The schooner went under the surface.

'How it's going to be removed from the harbor is anyone's guess,' Butson said.

Named the Lion's Whelp, the classic schooner had a rich history that greatly intrigued Butson when he purchased it a year ago. The Lion's Whelp had been constructed in 1929 in Maine by famed boat builder William Hand Jr. It had competed in the prestigious Bermuda Races, been used for submarine patrol during World War II and had become a tourist attraction over the last 20 years in Brookings.

Butson was waiting for some clear weather so he could start on a major restoration. His tools were onboard and he had ordered lumber from Canada. He had planned to make the schooner his home.

Now, Butson is wondering what to do next. His only plan is to go back and see if anything is salvageable from the wreckage. The boat was not covered by any insurance.

Although the Brookings harbor has been declared a disaster area by Gov. John Kitzhaber and assistance for boat owners is possible, Butson said, 'I don't know where I stand. I could be left out completely.'

Damage from the tsunami in Brookings was estimated at $10 to $13 million, according to the Port of Brookings Harbor's executive director.

Butson attended Lake Oswego schools through high school and has relatives in both Lake Oswego and West Linn.