Sail training vessel runs aground off California

A100-foot wood-hulled sail training vessel ran hard aground off the southern California coast in March, striking a submerged sandbar formed by recent storms. The vessel remained aground for several days, being pounded by heavy surf before salvors wrenched it free.

Irving Johnson lies battered by surf near Oxnard, Calif. The 20 people aboard — 10 professional crew and 10 students — were evacuated safely.
   Image Credit: Robert V. Schwemmer

There were no injuries to either passengers or crew, but several passengers were washed overboard in the breaking seas. Within minutes, however, the Ventura County Fire Department’s Swift Water Rescue Team was towing people ashore with jet-powered surf boats in a dramatic rescue witnessed by numerous beachgoers. All 20 people — 10 professional crew and 10 students — were evacuated safely and treated on the beach for mild hypothermia, according to U.S. Coast Guard reports.

On the morning of March 21, the brigantine Irving Johnson, which is operated by the Los Angeles Maritime Institute, was approaching the entrance to Channel Islands Harbor at Oxnard between two jetties when it struck bottom. The vessel was soon buffeted by surf. All passengers and crew donned life jackets, according to LAMI reports.

Conditions at the time included winds of 15 to 20 knots and 6-foot breaking seas. The water was approximately 55°. The vessel went aground near high tide, and onshore winds soon forced it further aground and into a starboard list.

Irving Johnson, which provided an unusual spectacle on the local waterfront, remained aground, just steps from the beach, until the evening of March 24. The keel was buried an estimated 8 feet into the sand, according to local reports. After being patched with plywood at low tide by volunteers, the vessel was towed free by a salvage crew from Muldoon Marine Services Inc. — to considerable applause and cheers of relief from the onlookers on the beach.

“[It was] a very emotional moment, and the beginning of her journey to get repaired and back to sea for the kids waiting for their chance to sail on her,” said Robert Schwemmer, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official who provided assistance in the salvage operations.

The vessel suffered considerable hull damage, including numerous broken planks and a damaged stem and rudder. Irving Johnson was towed into Oxnard and hauled out for repairs.

An investigation is ongoing, according to Public Affairs Specialist Prentice Danner of Coast Guard Public Affairs in Oxnard.

The vessel is named for the late Irving Johnson, who gained considerable attention in the sail training community for his numerous round-the-world training cruises in the 1950s and 1960s. Johnson also is known for his compelling documentary Around Cape Horn, which follows his experiences as a young deck hand learning the ropes aboard the square-rigged Peking in the 1920s.

By Professional Mariner Staff