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Grounded tall ship back in service

The brigantine Irving Johnson underwent a yearlong reconstruction after running aground last year

The brigantine Irving Johnson underwent a yearlong reconstruction after running aground last year

The Irving Johnson, a 100-foot sail-training brigantine that ran aground in a Ventura County, Calif., inlet March 21, 2005, with 10 crewmembers and 10 student passengers on board, has returned to service after a 14-month, $2-plus-million salvage and reconstruction.

“It’s been an education for all of us,” says Jim Gladson, president of the Los Angeles Maritime Institute in San Pedro, the charity that owns the Irving Johnson.

Gladson praises the yard that rebuilt the tall ship, the Coast Guard inspectors who oversaw the project, and the communities in California that supported the recovery of the passengers and the vessel. “I long ago discovered and [saw] in this year-plus of restoration that our absolute best partner is the U.S. Coast Guard,” he says. “We want the safest possible vessels.” And the Coast Guard wants the same thing, he says.

The Maritime Institute completed construction of the Irving Johnson and its sister ship, the Exy Johnson, in 2003 for $8 million. They are the core of the organization’s sail training program for adolescents. Gladson says the program takes groups of teens on a series of daysails in the Los Angeles area, leading to a five-day cruise.

On the day of the grounding a group of 10 college students on semester break had been aboard the Irving Johnson for two days and had visited the Channel Islands. That morning they sailed east, toward Oxnard and Channel Island Harbor, in good wind. At about 3:30 p.m., the sails were down, and the diesel was powering the brigantine toward the jetties at the harbor entrance. Unknown to the captain and crew, heavy rains had washed upland debris and silt into the channel, creating an uncharted sandbar on which the Irving Johnson made a soft grounding.

But surf was running, and a Coast Guard attempt to tow the vessel off the bar failed, leaving it prey to pounding waves. The Coast Guard ordered the evacuation of the ship, and passengers and crewmembers jumped into the water to be retrieved by rescuers on personal watercraft. There were no serious injuries.

It took three days for the ship to be refloated and hauled off the beach. The resulting damage was covered by insurance, says Gladson.

Despite the pounding surf, the Irving Johnson suffered relatively minor structural damage, Gladson says. “We did find some of the laminated frames that were cracked, but none cracked all the way through the laminations,” he says.

Gladson says Coast Guard officials told him that their as-yet-unpublished findings are that there was no negligence or misconduct by the crew. “However, you better believe that all of us … are nervous about going into a port where there is a potential for [unreported] change, especially in the wintertime,” he says. “We all look at where we are going and what we are doing with much sharper eyes than we did before. We’ve had our blowout on the freeway. At least we hope that is our one blowout.”

Editor’s note: Soundings covered the grounding of the Irving Johnson in the June 2005 issue. Search the archives at (keyword: “Irving Johnson”).