China Poot Rip notorious for unpredictable conditions

Jul 9, 2020

The 14-foot aluminum skiff that swamped and capsized, sending three men into the water near China Poot Bay on Wednesday. Bruin Bay LLC is salvaging it.
Credit Malcolm Milne F/V Capt. Cook

The name of the young man who succumbed to hypothermia in the waters off China Poot Bay Wednesday morning has been released. He was 23-year-old Justin Vanderlooven of Eagle River, according to Homer Police Lt. Ryan Browning. Also in the skiff was the man’s father, 54-year-old Scott Vanderlooven, and a third man whose name is still unavailable.
    They were thrown into the icy, glacier-fed waters around 10 a.m. after being swamped and capsized by a current known locally as the China Poot Rip.
    It’s unknown whether the three men in the small aluminum skiff knew of the dangers of the waters they were approaching, but Homer Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins says the accident is similar to one that occurred in the same area last year.
    “Same location and same basic issue. Small vessel, not enough freeboard and the China Poot Rip. Local knowledge is that the China Poot estuary is a large body of water and it all empties out through the entrance there at the entrance of China Poot. So a lot of water moving,” Hawkins said. “Tides, it's all about the tides in Kachemak Bay, right? I mean, you can't ignore them. They will come back and slap you if you do. And so a lot of tidal movement, a lot of water moving, and then, what really brings it to a head is a southwesterly wind. So, a day breeze, wind is southwesterly. Or this morning, we woke up with one. And a wind against the tide at the entrance of the channel, creates a tide rip.”
    Hawkins says the rip can look deceiving.
    “And from the ocean as you're approaching that, you look at it and you think, ‘yeah, it doesn't look too bad.’ When you get in the middle of it suddenly you realize, no, actually this is bad,” Hawkins said. “And if you don't have a vessel that can withstand that, you can get in trouble instantly. And that's what occurred. It overturned in that rip.”
    The Vanderloovens were rescued by surfers Vince Tillion and his son Clem, who transferred them to the charter boat Casino, which responded with a Coast Guard petty officer from the Homer Harbor. The third victim was rescued by Malcolm Milne and a crewman from the fishing vessel Captain Cook. That man and the elder Vanderlooven were ambulatory after reaching the Homer Harbor.