Bodega Bay crabbing enthusiasts were somber but resolute a day after one of the worst boating accidents in recent memory rocked their tight-knit community on the normally festive first weekend of the recreational crab season.
Under a cloudless sky Sunday, dozens of boats headed out on the calm water, a stark contrast to the previous day’s rough sea that capsized a 32-foot vessel, killing four of the five people on board.
By midmorning, most of the boats had returned to their berths at the Porto Bodega Marina with buckets full of crabs. A gaping hole in the line of boats was left at slip 16, where The Frog was normally moored. Its owner, Jesse Langley, was tossed into the choppy ocean off of Bodega Head on Saturday morning along with Sam Garcia, David Costa, Phillip Sanchez and an unidentified woman. Only Sanchez survived after swimming to Bodega Rock.
Mike Azevedo of Elk Grove said he has been crabbing off of Bodega for 30 years and knew Langley and Garcia, two fixtures in the local fishing community. Azevado said he went out crabbing Sunday morning but stayed closer to shore where the water is usually calmer.
“I think if they were still here, they would want us to go back out,” he said. “My heart breaks. This is the most tragic thing I’ve seen. I have a lot more respect for the ocean today. It can turn on you at anytime.”
Sam Garcia’s widow, Judy Garcia, said Sunday that the tragedy is only now starting to sink in. She said in the next few days she has to collect her husband’s body and plan a memorial service.
“I’m just like a lost person,” she said. “There are so many things to do, I don’t know where to start.”
The Coast Guard said about 150 boats went crabbing from Porto Bodega and the larger Spud Point Marina in Bodega Bay on Sunday as waves near shore were 4 to 6 feet and winds were light. A small-craft advisory remained in place beyond 10 nautical miles. Aaron Bretz, the officer in charge of the Coast Guard’s Two Rock base, said fatalities occur every season or so.
“It happens from time to time,” he said. “It’s really up to chance, and it’s hard to predict.”
Larry Valim, who drove over from Sacramento for the start of crab season, said he would not let the tragedy hold him back. He went out with some friends Sunday and came back with their limit of 10 large dungeness crabs.
“I didn’t know those guys, but I heard they were very experienced,” he said. “You don’t think it could happen to you ... but life goes on.”
Other crabbers said the accident is not likely to impact the much more lucrative commercial crab season, which starts in two weeks and generates about $24 million for the local economy. Commercial crabber Andy McCree, who readied stacks of mesh crab pots on the docks Sunday in preparation for the Nov. 15 opening day, said the accident gave him pause.
“It’s always sad when something like that happens,” he said. “We’re still going out. It’s our livelihood.”
You can reach Staff Writer Matt Brown at 521-5206 or firstname.lastname@example.org.