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Lost Jet Skiers Spend Foggy Night Adrift With Sharks : Oxnard: Danny and Dave Hamilton say they’re embarrassed at the misadventure that began when they ran out of gas at sea.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two brothers got more adventure than they bargained for on a jet ski outing that began in Oxnard’s Mandalay Bay Thursday morning and turned into a harrowing all-night ordeal when they became lost at sea in a dense fog.

Curious sharks swam within 20 feet of their ski vehicles, which had run out of fuel. After a few spine-tingling moments, the sharks disappeared back into the deep.

“You could see their fins zigzagging through the water. I kept my feet up when I saw them,” said Danny Hamilton, 52, a Santa Barbara County Fire Department captain. “I’ve been in shark fishing tournaments. I respect sharks.”

Much of the night, the brothers said, they were kept company by a frolicking, chattering school of dolphins as they bobbed along on the vast, lonely, fog-shrouded ocean.

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“You could hear them chattering,” said Dave Hamilton, 36, of Oxnard, a truck driver for a laboratory instruments firm. “Then they’d jump and slap the water.”

In an interview at Dave Hamilton’s waterside home on Mandalay Bay, the two experienced seamen said that besides being startled by menacing sharks, they were also downright embarrassed by their misadventure.

“We went out of here with nothing--no radio, no flares, no compass,” Danny Hamilton said. “The worst scenario you could think up, we did it.”

The brothers were rescued Friday morning by a vacationing Temple City couple, Alan Massey and his wife, who were piloting a 24-foot sailboat on a vacation to Anacapa Island, a Coast Guard spokesman said. The two stranded jet skiers were found about seven miles off the coast of western Malibu.

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Until that time, about 7 a.m., the brothers had been the object of an intensive Coast Guard and private boat search.

Both were found in good condition, although Danny Hamilton, wearing a partial wet suit that left the lower half of his body exposed, was suffering from slight hypothermia.

The brothers said they are experienced mariners, who have sailed to Mexico many times. But, as Danny Hamilton admitted, Thursday was his first experience with jet skis, which he described as akin to riding a waterborne snowmobile.

Thursday began simply enough, the brothers said, when they sat astride their Sea-Doo skis, which can go up to 50 m.p.h. and which have a fuel range capacity of about 30 miles.

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Leaving Dave Hamilton’s home on one of a maze of waterways leading to the ocean, the brothers took off on the motor-driven skis. They cruised around Ventura Harbor, even helping some people move a stalled motorboat.

Then, in the afternoon, they decided to make a loop around Platform Gina, an oil platform about three miles offshore between Oxnard and Anacapa Island.

That’s when the fog began rolling in and the brothers began experiencing disorientation.

“We were a good 20 miles off where we thought we were,” Dave Hamilton said. “We thought we were between Mandalay Bay and Oxnard. But, in reality, we were moving southbound in a shipping lane” toward the waters off Malibu.

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Danny Hamilton was the first to run out of fuel. His brother lashed the two ski vehicles together and tried to tow him. Then Dave Hamilton, too, ran out of fuel.

It was about 7 p.m. A dense, patchy, fog shrouded the ocean. A wind came up and the calm sea suddenly had a chop.

“Did you bring any dinner?” Danny Hamilton recalled asking his brother.

“We don’t get room service here,” Dave replied.

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When the brothers failed to return by Thursday evening, Dave Hamilton’s wife, Laura, alerted a neighbor, Bill Fenner, a retired Navy veteran who pilots a 43-foot sport yacht, the Billie Max. Fenner immediately put out to sea.

The Coast Guard also was notified and two cutters, the Point Carrew and the Point Judith, put to sea from the agency’s Channel Islands base. Two Coast Guard helicopters and another from the Navy also joined in the search.

Meanwhile, the two brothers continued to float along. At one point they saw a freighter in the distance, but observed no other boats until they were rescued.

Besides the close encounter with the sharks and the friendly antics of the dolphins, the brothers recalled seeing a spectacular light show in the water, flashing reflections of phosphorous highlighted by mackerel in a feeding frenzy near their skis. Despite their experience as sailors, they said that in the early, eerie morning hours, as the sea calmed, they had no idea where shore was.

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Finally, rescue came. The brothers were ultimately transferred to the Coast Guard cutter Carrew and then to the Billie Max, which brought them back to Mandalay Bay, their jet skis in tow.

It was a happy gathering on Dave Hamilton’s house deck Friday afternoon. The two brothers said they never feared for their lives during the ordeal, but would have if they had had to spend a second night adrift.

“We had a long night,” Dave Hamilton said.


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