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Brookings drama played on YouTube

BROOKINGS — Thousands of viewers shared Jan Pearce's anguish as they watched the Super Star spin helplessly over the Chetco River bar Friday, swept away during the biggest tsunami to hit Oregon in almost five decades.

Waves pouring into Brookings-Harbor broke the Super Star free from its moorage and carried the 43-foot queen of the Brookings charter fleet to sea as the flows ebbed.

Like 129,000 other people, Pearce watched it unfold on YouTube — the shaky video clearly showing the Super Star just miss crashing into the south jetty before it fortuitously spun bow-forward and crossed the bar in heavy surf.

"Bizarre. Surreal," says Pearce, who owns three Brookings charters with her husband, Jim Pearce.

The Super Star floated aimlessly in the Pacific for a few hours Friday before she was retrieved — with a little luck and some high-seas rodeo work — by an old salt and a young captain.

The boat sustained some serious damage to its rudder and rear hull as it scraped over submerged rocks, but she will live to serve those occasional Rogue Valley ocean anglers who make the two-hour trek to tackle bottomfish and chinook salmon from the Super Star each summer.

"It may take a month, but there's nothing broken we can't fix," Pearce says. "We're really fortunate. Really fortunate."

To see just how fortunate Pearce is, check out "3/11/2011 Tsunami Brookings Oregon" on YouTube.

The Pearces have been a fixture in Brookings-Harbor since 1994 when they bought the charter business, including the Super Star and the 36-foot Tidewinds. They added the 36-footer Bottom Line a decade ago to anchor the harbor's charter offering, which is popular among Rogue Valley residents taking summer refuge in Brookings.

All three were moored on a dock near the Chetco River mouth early Friday when the earthquake rumbled the sea floor just off the Japan coast, creating a tsunami that steamed toward North America at 500 mph.

Like many, the Pearces heard the tsunami warning and headed to the boat basin, unsure of what to do. Many commercial fishermen untethered their boats and headed to the open sea, where they rode out the waves in relative peace.

The bar was rough and the U.S. Coast Guard closed it to traffic about 6 a.m.

"If we had a little more time, we might have unhitched our boats and gone out," Pearce says.

When the waves hit, all three boats broke free. While two bounced around inside the harbor, the Super Star was sucked toward Japan as gawkers with cameras lined the jetties to chronicle the site.

The Super Star raked its hull against some submerged rocks, tearing through most of the Fiberglas.

"It was probably one layer of Fiberglas away from sinking," Jan Pearce says.

The boat slipped through the arms of the jetty and reached the open ocean, but the Super Star didn't drift south and crash onto the beach like a lot of other boats.

Instead, she spun and drifted until Bernie Lindley came to the rescue.

Lindley, a Brookings commercial fishermen, had boarded his family's vessel, the Sea Jay, and headed to sea to escape the tsunami just before the bar was closed. He heard of the Super Star's plight on the radio and headed over to find it adrift near shore.

Lindley tossed a grappling hook onto the Super Star and towed it away from shore to safer waters, Pearce says.

When the Coast Guard finally gave the OK late Friday for boats to travel across the Chetco River bar, Kyle Aubin and a crew of four aboard the Tidewinds motored out to the Super Star.

Once there, Aubin leaped from one boat to the next in swashbuckler fashion.

"He was the lightest one, and you want the lightest one to jump from boat to boat at sea," Pearce says.

Aubin climbed into the wheelhouse and fired up the engine, then motored home.

The dock is gone, and the Super Star will be in dry dock. The boat is insured, and the repairs will be done before May's start of the ocean salmon season, says Pearce, who will always have the YouTube video as a reminder of what almost was.

"Next time, no matter what, we'll go offshore," Pearce says. "We won't ride it out here again."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.