SANTA CATALINA — 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 offshore here during an annual firefighters' ocean race.
The captain and all 12 passengers, reported to be members of Southland fire departments, were plucked unharmed from the sea by rescue craft that converged on the scene moments after the Monday afternoon incident. Later Monday night, Coast Guard officials said, the 67-foot schooner broke apart in the waves and sank.
Initial reports that the passengers are all from the Anaheim Fire Department could not be confirmed Tuesday.
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, which is sponsored by the Anaheim Fire Department and features sailing competition among area fire departments. Afterward, awards are presented at a barbecue on the island.
"It's just a get-together for the firefighters and their families," said Long Beach firefighter Jay Shaffer, an event participant who was not aboard the schooner.
The boating mishap threw a damper on this year's festivities, however. "We're all bummed it happened," said another participant who was not on the schooner and who declined to give his name when interviewed by telephone at the Harbor Reef restaurant in Isthmus Harbor.
Although Monday's race drew participants primarily from Los Angeles and Orange counties, firefighters traveled from as far away as San Francisco to compete. In all, there were about 550 firefighters in 115 boats. The race started about 11 a.m. Monday at Long Beach and was to end about 20 miles away, at Isthmus Harbor on northern Santa Catalina.
The Diosa del Mar (which means "goddess of the sea") 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."
Later 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 craft from the Coast Guard, Los Angeles County lifeguards and Isthmus Harbor Patrol rushed in to rescue them.
"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 tried to avoid a small boat upon entry into Isthmus Harbor when he struck the reef. Coast Guard Lt. Vincent Campos, who is investigating the mishap, said Weinberg is due back in Long Beach today to give an official statement.
Campos said the captain would undergo drug testing, which is routine such an investigation.
Weinberg was not administered an alcohol test at the scene, however, because it did not appear to Coast Guard officials there that he had been drinking, Campos said.
The vessel was valued at $200,000, according to Coast Guard records. Weinberg, who could not be reached for comment, left this recording on the answering machine of his Los Angeles Harbor office: "Everybody's busy over at Catalina Island. You'll have to call back."