Whale strikes sailboat during race near Astoria

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Updated: May 13, 2011, 7:28 AM

 
photoThe sailing vessel L'Orca rests in the water of Astoria's West End Basin pier after having its rigging and mast demolished by a breaching whale near Astoria on Thursday. The vessel and its crew were taking part in a race to Victoria, B.C., when the whale surfaced, and were escorted to Astoria by a 47-foot motor lifeboat crew from Station Cape Disappointment, Wash.

ASTORIA, Ore. (AP) — A breaching whale smashed the mast and rigging of a 38-foot racing sailboat in a Pacific Ocean encounter off southwest Washington on Thursday, leaving bits of blubber behind, the sailors told the Coast Guard.

Crew members aboard the L'Orca were safely in the cockpit and unhurt during the encounter, said Ryan Barnes of Portland, Ore.

The crew said the whale did not appear seriously hurt.

The whale strike happened about a half hour after the L'Orca set out Thursday morning from the mouth of the Columbia River off Astoria in the 193-mile Oregon Offshore International Yacht Race to Victoria, British Columbia, Barnes said.

Barnes is the son of boat owner Jerry Barnes of Sandy, Ore.

"All of the sudden, a few inches, a foot maybe off the starboard side, a whale came breaching out of the water," Ryan Barnes told Coast Guard Petty Officer Shawn Eggert in a video interview. "It looked to be a humpback whale, about 30 feet in length roughly.

"It hit the mast about halfway to three-quarters of the way up, and then proceeded to fall forward and on the starboard side of the boat."

Barnes said that brought down the mast and the rigging.

Eggert described the bits of blubber left behind as "maybe a scrape for a 30-foot whale."

The L'Orca crew called for help and a Coast Guard motor lifeboat from nearby Ilwaco, Wash., helped bring it safely to port in Astoria.

Orca is another name for the black and white killer whales often seen in Northwest waters.