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Background photo of the beach at Whale Cove was made by Bryce Buchanan in 2004. (Via WikiMedia Commons, cc/by/SA)
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Then, late on the evening of Dec. 29, the watchers saw something flashing from the gloamy blackness of the winter sea. It was an unlighted ship, as close on shore as it could safely come, signaling to someone on shore.
Signal flashes came in response; but then, nothing.
Looking at the weather, though, it wasn’t hard to see why all remained quiet. It was a raw, blustery night, and the sea was high and rough. The show was being put on hold for a night.
Sure enough, the next evening – New Year’s Eve’s Eve, if you will – the unlighted ship was back. This time, the sea was calmer … calm enough, it seemed.
Things got started at 12:30 a.m., when one of the LARCs rolled out of the barn and down to the beach. It stayed there for some time, as signals flashed back and forth from the darkened ship. Then, at 1:18 a.m., it rolled down to the ocean, plunged into the water, forged through the breakers, and made its way out to the ship.
It came back an hour and a half later. When it rolled up onto the beach, the watching agents could hear the sounds of jubilant whoops and other celebratory noises from the crew on the beach; then it rolled over to the semi-truck, which had been parked on the beach near at hand, and shadowy figures started transferring large boxes into it.
A second LARC now pulled out and, after the first one was fully unloaded, the two truck-boats plunged back into the breakers together for the second run out to the ship – from which they returned at 4:40 a.m., again loaded with boxes.
And it was about this time that the authorities decided they’d waited long enough.
From a nearby dune, a signal flare shot up into the sky, bathing the beach in what must have seemed like broad daylight. At the same time, a Coast Guard helicopter swooped down and pinned the ship in its spotlight. By its light, frantic-looking figures on the deck could be seen heaving boxes overboard.
Meanwhile, on the beach, police officers and Coast Guardsmen moved in. “Freeze!” someone shouted.
The smugglers, of course, did not freeze; as soon as the flare went out, plunging the beach back into darkness, they scattered. But officers were able to round up most of them, and of course the LARC-Vs and semi-trailer weren’t going anywhere.
After that, it was just a case of mopping things up. The ship managed to elude the Coast Guard helicopter in the darkness, but when dawn broke they soon spotted it again; the crew had tried to scuttle it, but had succeeded only in waterlogging it (they were subsequently found pulling for shore in a lifeboat, and taken into custody). It was the 147-foot freighter Cigale, of Panamanian registry; one of the gang had bought it in Europe the previous year for around $300,000. It had, they later learned, come straight across the sea from Thailand with seven and a half tons of “Thai stick” marijuana to be unloaded on the beach.
It was the largest drug bust in the history of the West Coast at that time.
And it all came about because a newcomer from another state underestimated the depth of the average Oregonian’s proprietary feelings toward the state’s beaches. In California or Washington, blocking off that road would have been no big deal. “Oh, the old owner let you use the beach, did he? Well, sorry, I won’t be doing that.” And, because the beach can be private property in those states, a disappointed shrug would have been the only logical response.
But in Oregon, the locals reacted to Allen’s closure of the road as if he were denying them access to their own property — which, in effect, he was.
This sentiment must have taken Allen by surprise. This massive operation was obviously was not, as they say, his first rodeo — with its millions of dollars’ worth of equipment and (ahem) inventory, not to mention payroll. He cannot have been ignorant of the increased danger that would befall his operation if he made enemies of all the neighbors for miles around. Yet that is exactly what he did.
Allen and his colleagues were tried and sentenced to relatively mild prison terms — in the five- to seven-year range. What became of them after their release I have not been able to learn (although I will freely confess that I didn’t try very hard).
As for their ranch — it was bought by Ann and Nancy Wilson, the guitar-slinging sisters who front the rock band Heart, in 1980. They set up a thoroughbred horse training facility there, and ran it till 1987, when they sold it to the Bureau of Land Management.
Today, it’s part of the BLM’s 1,000-acre New River Area of Critical Environmental Concern — called the Storm Ranch Unit — and boasts miles of walking trails and a visitor center/museum.