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Sailboat of Lost Attorney Found Adrift in Pacific

Times Staff Writer

A yacht believed to be registered to a Garden Grove attorney who disappeared in mid-February on the last leg of a three-year sailing trip in the South Pacific has been found drifting 1,500 miles south of Honolulu.

Acting on a tip from a foreign fishing boat, U.S. Coast Guard search planes found what is believed to be Manning Eldridge’s 41-foot sloop Sunday, drifting in open waters. A Coast Guard cutter was dispatched to intercept the boat, but Coast Guard officials said it would not arrive until Saturday.

In Seal Beach, close friends of Eldridge, 43, said Tuesday that they still have difficulty believing he did not just succumb to the temptations of the tropics and swap his law practice for a deserted island. They vividly recalled the period when he first was reported missing.

‘Does Not Look Good’

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“As the days passed I kept thinking that he couldn’t be lost, he was simply on some island deciding whether to come back to this crazy place,” said Harold Rothman of Seal Beach. “But now, it does not look good.”

Rothman and his wife, Wendi, said Eldridge’s long-held dream had been to sail alone through the tropics, far from his law practice and the grind of urban life.

The unmarried Eldridge left Long Beach in August, 1984, and had sailed to Hawaii and then throughout the South Pacific before docking in Tahiti last fall. He left Tahiti Jan. 8 and was to have arrived in Honolulu Feb. 15. When his boat, the Marara, failed to show, friends contacted authorities on Feb. 18.

But efforts to find the boat were unsuccessful, and even a $40,000 reward offered by the Rothmans and others for information leading to his rescue failed to turn up anything.

It was not until Sunday night, just before dusk, that a C-130 Coast Guard search plane spotted the boat north of Palmyra in the Christmas Islands. Its mast was broken, and the sails were torn. Attempts to contact the boat by radio were met with silence.

Although Coast Guard officials would not confirm it, the Rothmans said Tuesday that Coast Guard officials in Hawaii had told them the registration numbers from the drifting boat matched those on Eldridge’s sloop.

Cutter Dispatched

A Coast Guard spokesman said a 190-foot cutter was sent to intercept the sloop because it is out of the range of Coast Guard helicopters.

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The last time the Rothmans talked with Eldridge was on New Year’s Day, when he called the couple collect from Tahiti. The phone bill, $104.63, was on the couple’s living room table Tuesday, underlined in yellow.

Eldridge, 6 feet, 2 inches tall and about 190 pounds, bought his first sailboat at age 12, according to Wendi Rothman, his former secretary. He bought the Marara in 1979, several years after opening his law practice. He kept it moored in Long Beach and spent weekends exploring the Southern California coast.

A year before he left for the South Pacific, Eldridge leased out a house he owned in Cypress and moved aboard the ship.

When the Coast Guard called off its initial search for Eldridge in mid-March, Wendi and another friend flew to Hawaii and began circulating copies of a flyer offering the reward. It had a picture of Eldridge and his boat, and Wendi has had it printed in 22 languages and circulated throughout the South Pacific.

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The Rothmans described Eldridge as an experienced sailor who was a meteorologist in the military. “He was resourceful, and he always said he would never abandon that boat. He said it could float like a cork. I just hope he’s alive somewhere.”


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