Vessel’s name full of meaning

There’s something powerful about the names of boats. Their cleverness can make you laugh. Their poetry can make you smile. They conjure up images of places far away and they raise questions about the people for whom they’re named.

A new 54-foot landing craft built by ATEC followed the powerful tradition of boat-naming Sunday as it was christened the M/V Sanoah in memory of Sanoah Violet Huestis.

The 4-month-old Sanoah was with her grandmother, Christina Jefferds, 45, at the family home near Oso, Wash., on March 22, when a massive mudslide swept through the area.

Forty-three people lost their lives in the slide, among them Sanoah and Jefferds.

On Sunday, Sanoah’s mother Natasha Huestis and Huestis’ uncle Rawle Jefferds of Whidbey Island, Wash., were in Homer for the christening of the vessel. The landing craft was built by ATEC and will be operated in the area by Alaska Marine Services. (See related story, this page.)

Steve Attleson, owner of ATEC and AMS, originally planned to name the vessel after his mother, Gemey Glover of Marysville, Wash. When he called Glover to ask permission, she suggested he consider naming it in memory of Sanoah.

Glover had been following news of the horrific event near Oso. As a grandmother, she was particularly touched by the death of the baby and grandmother.

Because Attleson has organized search and rescue efforts for the Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers, a Kenai Peninsula snowmachine club, Glover recognized the powerful commitment of the hundreds of volunteers that helped in Oso.

The power of the boat Attleson was building and the speed with which it could respond to an emergency if needed seemed to Glover a fitting balance to Sanoah and Jefferds’ powerlessness against the disaster that took their lives.

Attleson agreed, sought out Natasha Huestis and asked permission to name his boat after her daughter.

“I didn’t think twice,” said Huestis of agreeing to Attleson’s request.

On the morning of March 22, Huestis had gone to a yoga class. Before returning to the home where she and her daughter lived with her parents, Huestis received word to contact her step-father, an Oso volunteer firefighter, and learned of the mudslide that had swept away her daughter, her mother and their home, as well as neighbors and other homes in the area.

In the days that followed, searchers carefully sifted through tons of debris in an area covering approximately one square mile.

On Rawle Jefferds’ phone, photo after photo documents the extensive effort. 

Christina Jefferds was the first victim of the disaster to be identified. Sanoah’s body was located not far from her grandmother. 

The origin of Sanoah’s name is a Hawaiian word that means “mist on the mountains.”

“It just so happened that the place she died was in a valley and there was mist on the mountains,” said Huestis.