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“It never gets away from me” – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News

Survivor remembers the freak storm that killed 13, including her grandfather, 50 years ago

Dave Shinkle stands near the Brookings-Harbor monument that remembers those who lost their lives in a freak windstorm in southern Oregon and the northern California coast 50 years ago. Shinkle, 16 at the time, survived despite spending nearly 4 hours in the frigid ocean. [Breeana Laughlin/Curry Pilot]

Dave Shinkle stands near the Brookings-Harbor monument that remembers those who lost their lives in a freak windstorm in southern Oregon and the northern California coast 50 years ago. Shinkle, 16 at the time, survived despite spending nearly 4 hours in the frigid ocean. [Breeana Laughlin/Curry Pilot]

The full extent of the tragedy that struck the southern Oregon coast on August 16, 1972 was not yet known when the Mail Tribune went to press the next day.

BROOKINGS — Dave Shinkle can’t shake the moment he drifted into the Pacific, minutes after his family fishing boat sank from under the teenager 50 years ago Tuesday.

The 16-year-old Shinkle had paddled through nearly four hours of infernal waves caused by a freak and unforeseen storm, pulling his grandfather behind him in search of safety.

When Shinkle noticed that his grandfather, Clayton Dooley, 57, was dead, he let go of the man and the chubby teenager in rain gear and a life jacket swam alone to shore a mile away.

“I thought I might make it to the ground, but it was futile,” recalls Shinkle.

Eventually, one of the many private boats that went out that day from Brookings to help rescue his siblings pulled the teenager out of the 30-foot seas.

Shinkle did what none of the other 10 ships sunk that day had accomplished in the 65-knot winds of this freak storm on August 16, 1972: He survived.

“Nobody else did it more than me,” Shinkle says. “It’s been a serious part of my life ever since.”

Shinkle returned to Brookings on Tuesday to pay tribute to the 13 sailors who died in the storm 50 years ago off the coast of southern Oregon and northern California and to relive their story amid a small family group.

In doing so, he helped keep alive the largely forgotten calamity that helped change the way federal agencies deal with marine storms in the Pacific Northwest.

A National Transportation Safety Board report later criticized the US Coast Guard and National Weather Service for failing to communicate with each other and, in turn, with mariners on the high seas about the forming storm. strangely fast

The strange storm, originating in the South Pacific and fueled by low pressure and cold water, somehow eluded the rudimentary federal forecasting capabilities of the time, which had very limited satellite information and little data at sea.

And the Coast Guard’s inability in 1972 to communicate by CB radios with boaters on the high seas helped create a tragic window in time that will likely never be repeated, experts say.

“When I look at the technology they had back then, they were really flying blind,” says Ryan Sandler, warning coordinator meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Medford.

“It was a disaster that would have been completely different today,” says Sandler. “The chances of it (not being predicted) now are almost zero.”

The morning of August 16, 1972, broke a strange calm, with a light rain and a strange lack of birds flying, Shinkle recalls.

He was wearing his rain gear in the fog, which probably saved his life, Shinkle says.

I was fishing with Dooley on the family’s 35-foot Dixie Lee and having a good longline salmon day near the Point St. Lighthouse. George, south of the California border.

The Dixie Lee received CB reports of massive winds erupting in Northern California, so Shinkle and Dooley grabbed the gear and headed for home. The ship’s speed peaked at just 8 knots, he says.

The fishermen would then send CB messages ashore asking for help. They found Jayne Gibney, a CB enthusiast who lived on a hill outside of Brookings and therefore had a good signal.

Gibney radioed fellow Brookings CBer Peggy Georgen what was happening.

“It was really a freak storm that came out of nowhere,” Georgen recalls. “It’s been so quiet.”

Distress calls began coming in to Gibney and relayed to Georgen, who stationed himself at the Coast Guard gates in Brookings-Harbor to relay which ships were in trouble and where, Georgen says.

“It was horrible,” Georgen recalls. “There were people out there that you knew well and all of a sudden they weren’t responding. You knew they were in trouble.”

But no one on earth knew Dixie Lee’s dilemma.

Before Dooley could call ashore, a wave fueled by 65-knot winds blew past the wheelhouse windows.

Shinkle struggled to get life jackets which he put on first Dooley and then himself.

Seconds later, a wave broke their stabilizing height and the two were thrown into the Pacific.

Shinkle looked at his trusty Timex wristwatch. It was 10:20 in the morning

If it had been 10:20 am in the 21st century, the Dixie Lee probably wouldn’t have sailed that day.

The Weather Service’s Sandler says this particular storm hit the region in the middle of the predicted climate changes of the early 1970s.

The Weather Service had once relied on weather reports from Coast Guard ships, but those ships were being moved in favor of weather buoys that were not yet functional, according to the NTSB report.

Also, the various Coast Guard regions in Oregon and California were slow to communicate about the rapidly building storm, according to the NTSB. And the Coast Guard was not using CB to communicate with seafarers back then, the report states.

“Today, if I had been calm and looked at the Point St. George buoy and it said 50-knot winds, they would have all stayed in port,” Sandler says.

If only the Dixie Lee’s had known what they usually know now.

“If we had maybe an hour’s advance (warning), we would have made it,” Shinkle says. “May be.”

Instead, Shinkle found himself in the drink, towing Dooley behind as he tried to swim to shore.

Possible rescue boats passed by, not seeing the couple tossing in the heavy seas. Dooley disappeared, his body later recovered.

Shinkle says the same hypothermia he claims his grandfather suffered could have killed him if it weren’t for his self-described “chubby” build and the rubber rain gear Dooley wasn’t wearing that morning.

When a passing boat picked up Shinkle, his trusty Timex said it was 2:10 p.m.

“That’s what saved my life,” Shinkle says. “Being chubby and the rain gear.”

A hellish memory for a 16-year-old boy who grew up as a railway engineer terrified to this day by the sound of high winds.

“I see it right in front of me, buddy,” Shinkle says. “It never escapes me.”

Mark Freeman covers the outdoors for the Mail Tribune. Contact him at 541-776-4470 or email him at


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