Coast Guard officials Tuesday were investigating an accident in which the venerable schooner Diosa Del Mar--believed to be one of the oldest registered vessels in California--broke up and sank on a reef off Catalina Island during an annual firefighter's race.
The captain and all 12 passengers, reported to be members of Southland fire departments, were plucked unharmed from the sea by rescue boats that converged on the scene moments after the Monday afternoon incident. Coast Guard officials said the 67-foot schooner broke apart in the waves and sank to the ocean floor.
The schooner, built in 1898 and certificated by the Coast Guard as a commercial charter vessel, was participating in the 10th Annual Firemen's Race at the time of the accident. The race is sponsored by the Anaheim Fire Department and features sailing competition between area fire departments.
"It's just a get-together for the firefighters and their families," said Long Beach firefighter Jay Shaffer, one of the participants.
Although Monday's race drew participants primarily from Los Angeles and Orange counties, groups of firefighters traveled from as far away as San Francisco to compete. In all, there were more than 500 firefighters traveling in 115 boats. The race started about 11 a.m. Monday in Long Beach and was to end about 20 miles away in the Isthmus Harbor section of northern Catalina Island.
The Diosa Del Mar was in third place and nearing the end of the race when it ran aground on an underwater reef near Ship Rock, a charted navigational hazard about a mile offshore, said Tim Bombard, director of the private Isthmus Harbor Patrol. According to Harbor Patrol officials, the owner and captain of the vessel, Eddie Weinberg of Encino, radioed, "We struck Ship Rock. It's taking on water fast."
Inspection revealed that the schooner had a gash 18 feet long and 4 feet wide through its wooden hull, Bombard said. The vessel went down on the underwater rocks, leaving the passengers and Weinberg standing in knee-deep water as boats from the Coast Guard, Los Angeles County Lifeguards and Isthmus Harbor Patrol rushed to rescue them, Bombard said.
"The people were fine," said Bombard, who assisted in the rescue. "They all got off safely."
Weinberg, who had chartered the Diosa for many years out of Los Angeles Harbor, told rescuers that he had avoided a small boat while entering Isthmus Harbor when he struck the reef. Coast Guard Lt. Vincent Campos, who is investigating the mishap, said that Weinberg was due back in Long Beach today to give an official statement.
Campos said the captain would be routinely tested for drugs. Weinberg was not administered an alcohol test at the scene because it did not appear to Coast Guard officials that he had been drinking, Campos said.