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Many Keep Hopes Afloat for Grounded Ship

A day after a tall ship's crew and passengers are rescued, a salvage operation works to move vessel off the beach and into Oxnard harbor.

March 23, 2005|Daryl Kelley and Spencer Weiner | Times Staff Writers

On a drizzly dawn after a sandbar scuttled the Irving Johnson outside an Oxnard harbor, a crew that had stayed with the beached tall ship overnight, and one that had arrived to help save it, huddled for an emotional group hug Tuesday morning.

"The Irving Johnson has got to float again: I've got a lot of myself in that boat," said Marann Fengler, watching from Silver Strand Beach as the ship bobbed sideways in the surf near a rock jetty.

A volunteer ship teacher for five years, Fengler said she had been so tortured by TV images of the listing boat that she had driven from her home in Torrance to see if she could help.

The 90-foot-long, two-masted replica of a 19th century windjammer ran aground Monday, forcing 10 college students and 10 sailing instructors to leap into pounding surf to be rescued.

Tuesday was a daylong salvage operation that the vessel's owners had hoped would end in the late evening, with a tugboat pulling the ship off the sand into open water and then to Channel Islands Harbor, its destination the day before.

But Capt. Jim Gladson, president of the San Pedro-based Los Angeles Maritime Institute, which owns the ship, said the tide wasn't quite high enough to refloat the vessel, and the winds were unfavorable.

He said the effort would resume shortly after daybreak today, with the return of a higher tide and better winds.

"Even under the best of circumstances, it'll be quite some time before she's back in commission," he said. "There's a fair amount of water damage inside."

The Irving Johnson, powered by its 315-horsepower diesel engine, ran aground as it approached the harbor entrance, striking an uncharted sandbar apparently created by heavy seas Sunday night.

After grounding, the ship drifted south of the harbor entrance, narrowly skirting a rock jetty and landing in the shallow waters near the beach. Its engine and rudder still worked, Gladson said. But the waters outside the channel were too shallow to allow the ship to maneuver.

"My understanding is we were in the appropriate place at the appropriate time doing the appropriate thing," Gladson said. "It was an unexpected shoal. And once we got onto the shoal, we couldn't get the boat back even with full power."

He said ship Capt. Doug Corey, an unpaid volunteer, was very experienced in sailing tall ships and had visited Channel Islands Harbor many times on weeklong trips with youths.

A U.S. Coast Guard spokesman said a report on the cause of the grounding was not yet complete. Corey and members of the Irving Johnson crew were at the Coast Guard's Long Beach headquarters Tuesday for routine drug testing, Gladson said.

Meanwhile, as dozens of spectators watched, the crew of Muldoon Marine Services pumped water out of the ship and 800 gallons of diesel fuel to tanks onshore.

That job was done by midafternoon.

Stacked in a single pile on the beach were the 20 sandy lifejackets that the students and crew members had used the day before. Nine of those 10 students -- from colleges across the country -- have decided to finish the week in Southern California, Gladson said. They were catching a movie Tuesday night and planning a trip to Disneyland today.

On Thursday, they hope to return to Ventura County to work with the local youths they had come to help in the first place.

"These college students are real good kids," Gladson said.

"And this could turn out to be a real success story to the degree that the boat floats in the end."

*

Times staff writer Kurt Streeter contributed to this report.

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