Skip to main content

Hard aground

A millionaire’s toy, a teaching vessel. One East Coast, one West Coast.

A tall ship, a luxury yacht. There’s plenty to separate these two recent mishaps, but they both manage to find common ground

A millionaire’s toy, a teaching vessel. One East Coast, one West Coast.

A tall ship, a luxury yacht. There’s plenty to separate these two recent mishaps, but they both manage to find common ground

Tall Ship

By Douglas A. Campbell / senior Writer

The grounding of the wooden tall ship Irving Johnson just off Oxnard, Calif., was a very subtle thing. Standing on the foredeck with no job for the moment, volunteer crewman Hardy Scroggin watched a gang furl a sail on the bowsprit and felt nothing. Below his feet, however, the keel of the 90-foot ship, which had been lifted on a 6- to 8-foot incoming swell, had settled on an apparently uncharted sandbar.

Within minutes, Scroggin was clinging to the ship’s rail as he watched breaking seas wash four of the other nine hands and their 10 college-student passengers overboard. It was the afternoon of March 21, and by this time the 128-ton, $4-plus million, 2-year-old sail training vessel was being slammed by the surf, rocking violently onto its starboard rail with each oncoming wave, then tilting back onto its port rail under the powerful backwash of the wave’s retreat.

A Coast Guard attempt with a small boat to tow the brigantine away from a nearby stone jetty had failed. The Irving Johnson’s keel was firmly dug into the sand, and the rocks of the jetty that rose off the starboard beam were poised to finish the brutal job of destruction that the surf had begun. What had started two days earlier as a high-minded cruise, meant to bring the college students — on their spring break — in contact with a group of at-risk teenagers for the benefit of both, had taken a decidedly dangerous turn. The foaming, 58-degree sea seemed hungry for the Irving Johnson — so named for the world-voyaging sailor who with his wife made numerous circumnavigations aboard three vessels named Yankee — and the 20 on board.

If you could divide those aboard the tall ship into two groups, crew and guests, Scroggin was the one who could be said to straddle the divide. He came to the ship three days before with at least one thing in common with the other nine crewmembers: decades of sailing. But like most, if not all, of the students (nine young women and one young man) he had never been on a tall ship.

Scroggin, who is from Portland, Ore., sails a 35-foot C&C sloop on Puget Sound. Later this year he plans to spend a month circumnavigating Vancouver Island, half of the trip with friends and half single-handed.

A friend had encouraged Scroggin, who is 63 and retired from a career as project manager in the maritime industry, to join him as a volunteer aboard the Irving Johnson. When at the last minute the friend was taken to a hospital for heart surgery, Scroggin decided he’d stay ashore and help the friend. But the heart patient insisted that Scroggin follow through as a volunteer. So on Friday, March 18, he arrived at the Los Angeles Maritime Institute, the non-profit organization that built and owns the Irving Johnson and her sister ship, the Exy Johnson.

He boarded the Irving Johnson with a group of youths from a Los Angeles middle school for a daysail and for his own orientation. Jim Gladson, president and founder of the institute, an affiliate of the Los Angeles Maritime Museum, says his organization will “take any group of kids — first come, first served — regardless of whether they have money” for a sailing adventure that for many is their only chance to go to sea. The bulk of the institute’s contributions come through a contract with the Port of Los Angeles, he says.

“They pay us to take the students from 27 severely impacted middle schools in the city of Los Angeles,” he says, giving the kids five days of daysailing and one five-day cruise to teach teamwork, leadership and other skills. The institute, which was started in 1992, gives its mission as the use of sail training “to provide youth with real-life challenges that develop knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to live healthy, productive lives.”

Gladson says the institute has contracted with the National Society of Collegiate Scholars to provide a spring break experience for its members. The NSCS is a non-profit group that rewards high-achieving first- and second-year college students with community service opportunities and other experiences.

Under way

On Saturday, March 19, the 10 NSCS student guests arrived at the Irving Johnson prepared for their sailing adventure, during which they expected to learn some tall-ship skills that they would pass along later in the week to a group of at-risk high school students. They came from nine different schools scattered across the country from California to Vermont. Each student had paid about $1,000 for the experience, according to the NSCS, headquartered in Washington.

Scroggin found that, due to his lack of tall ship experience, he soon was accepted as a peer by the college students on board. “We became really close,” he says. “They recognized that I knew things about navigation and the water and stuff, but they knew I didn’t know anything about tall rig sailing.”

Scroggin was aware that among the crewmembers — the captain and his mate were licensed, paid professionals, he says, but the others were also volunteers — all had some tall ship experience. “One fellow [a volunteer] came down from Seattle and had spent time on the Lady Washington,” says Scroggin. “Another fellow spent a lot of time on the Exy Johnson and the Irving Johnson.”

The Irving Johnson left its dock in San Pedro, south of Los Angeles, on Saturday evening. There were scattered showers as the vessel headed up the coast on a northwesterly course. The experienced crew began teaching the students and Scroggin. “They had me right along with the kids, learning standing watch and how to handle sails,” he recalls. “Because I had some mechanical [skills], they had me tending to the gray-water tanks.”

At about 10 o’clock that evening the Irving Johnson dropped anchor near Santa Monica, due west of downtown Los Angeles. On Sunday morning the brigantine — a two-master, the forward spar carrying up to four square-rigged sails — headed northwest toward the Channel Islands. The voyage of perhaps 50 nautical miles gave the crew its first extended opportunity for sail handling in brisk winds under an overcast sky.

The rain had stopped, and the temperature was cool — in the 60s — as the ship moved at a good, steady pace. Arriving at the islands, the brigantine anchored and the crew settled in for the night after a shipboard meal. The menu for the week ranged from stews to sloppy Joes, according to Scroggin.

On Monday morning, with the wind still strong and the sun rising in a clear sky, the captain gave the order to sail off the anchor. Scroggin, a heavy-set man, was comfortably dressed in a sweatshirt and light windbreaker. He needed his sunglasses as the ship headed east into the sun, toward the coastal town of Oxnard, whose Channel IslandsHarbor was about 20 nautical miles away. Scroggin says the Irving Johnson was making such good time that the captain, concerned they would reach Oxnard before schedule, ordered the sails shortened.

Trouble looming

Well before their 3:30 p.m. arrival at the harbor entrance, the crew started the Irving Johnson’s 315-hp diesel and took down all the sails. There are jetties on the north and south sides of the Channel IslandsHarbor entrance, and offshore from where the jetties end is a long stone breakwater running parallel to the shore and perpendicular to the jetties. To enter the harbor, the Irving Johnson steamed past the southern end of the breakwater, then turned to port, steering a course between the breakwater and the ends of the jetties.

Gladson says the breakwater was designed to divert sand from the harbor entrance and deposit it farther along the beach. The normal depth at the entrance is 20 feet, he says, and the Irving Johnson draws 11 feet.

“The harbormaster had done a survey of it just a week before,” says Gladson. “It was 20 feet at that time.”

Gladson wouldn’t allow his paid crew to be interviewed for this story, saying he preferred to wait for the Coast Guard to complete its investigation of the grounding. But he says the crew was taking depth soundings as the vessel approached the entrance, and was getting measurements of 18 to 22 feet.

“Someone came up forward from aft, one of the permanent crew, and said, ‘We’ve grounded,’ ” Scroggin recalls. “I looked to the right and saw abeam the end of the entrance jetty.”

He says he saw no movement. “Right away there was a lot of confusion, and the permanent crew wanted everyone to muster up back amidship between the aft house and the mid house,” he says. “That’s where the life jackets are all stowed.”

Once the passengers and crew were in life jackets, they were told to move back on the port side along the rail and hang on. “The captain was busy trying to gun the engine,” says Scroggin. “Amazingly quick, I saw a lot of people standing on that jetty and the Coast Guard [arriving in a small boat].”

Tow line snaps

The Coast Guard crew threw a small line to the bow and began pulling it away from the jetty, Scroggin says. “At that time we were taking breaking seas over the boat. It seemed like about every third or fourth roller would break over the deck,” he says. “We would get knocked to our knees on the deck. At one point we all got knocked off our feet and washed down the deck, and wound up in a sort of pig pile by the wheel at the stern.”

Scroggin says they scrambled around to the other side of the house, which was a little more sheltered from the seas. “But we were still taking the breaking seas,” he says. “By that time they had had some success at pulling the bow around, so the bow was into the seas a bit. But at that time the line parted. You could hear it snap.”

He says the ship then got washed back around again.

“That meant that the Irving Johnson was floating closer and closer into the surf line,” says Capt. Tom Law of the Ventura County Fire Department, who was standing on the beach when the tow rope parted. He and his partner for the day, firefighter Jeff Witt, had one of three department PWC that were waiting to help if needed. There were Coast Guard helicopters hovering and other rescue vehicles, including the small Coast Guard boat, on hand. With the brigantine’s two 87-foot masts swinging in metronomic arcs, the firefighters could see that a helicopter rescue was out of the question.

“A rescue operation by a monohull boat was not going to be possible,” Law says. “We have had a lot of rain here this year — a lot of rain. It precipitated the La Conchita mudslide [which killed 10 people]. Whether that’s changed the depths or not, I don’t know.”

Gladson, of the Maritime Institute, says that was precisely the problem. Debris and sand washed down from the California mountains by the unusual rains had supplied the material for the sandbar, he says. Whether the offshore breakwater had failed in its job of moving deposits farther down the coast was unclear, he says.

Before the tow-line failed, Scroggin says, a couple of ladders had been rigged. But once the line was gone and the bow had swung back toward shore, the violent rocking started. “We were just hanging on for dear life,” he says.

Coast Guard inflatable boats attempted to approach the Irving Johnson. It was during this time that Scroggin saw some of the students — he thinks four — washed overboard. They were picked up by the Coast Guard or scrambled onto nearby rocks, he says.

“It became apparent that there was no way the Coast Guard was going to be able to get close enough long enough to get anybody off the boat from the Jacobs ladders,” says Scroggin. “Eventually one of the paid staff came back and said that we were going to have to abandon the ship, one at a time.”

To the rescue

It was about this time that Law and firefighter Witt launched their PWC, all of which had a “sled” — a hard, short surfboard-type float — attached at the rear on pivots, like a trailer. The sleds had sturdy loops on each side for handholds. One firefighter would serve as the rescue swimmer, while the other operated the PWC and dragged the swimmer out to the surf. Law was a swimmer, Witt a PWC operator.

“We didn’t have to coax people into the water,” which was 10 to 15 feet deep, Law says. “They were jumping off the ship. It was pretty dynamic.”

The plan was to maneuver the PWC close to the Irving Johnson, where the rescue swimmers would let go of the sled and swim to a victim in the water. Wrapping an arm around the victim, the rescue swimmer would guide the person toward the PWC, which would make a loop and return. The swimmer would get the victim to hold onto the sled loops, then climb on top of the person to hold him or her aboard while the PWC operator drove toward the beach. All three fire department PWC took part in the operation.

Clinging to the rail on the high side of the brigantine, Scroggin watched the rescue operation begin. “The ship was heeled way over, just kind of laying there on a 45-degree angle, so the deck was all awash and slippery,” he says. “So you kind of slid down to the low side. The idea was you perched there until a guy up on the high side watching the waves gave you the command to go. I jumped in, rolled over on my back. I wanted to be able to see the ship as I swam away in case it was coming down.”

A rescue swimmer grabbed Scroggin around the chest. They were in the breakers, the rescue swimmer doing the side-stroke and Scroggin just kicking. The two propelled themselves toward a sled, which dragged them to the beach.

“Several of the kids were shivering violently before we abandoned ship,” says Scroggin. “I’m heavy-set. I couldn’t feel [the cold]. It wasn’t hot-tub comfortable, but I wasn’t shivering.”

The whole PWC rescue effort was over in less than 20 minutes, Law says. Everyone had been retrieved from the Irving Johnson. Scroggin had a badly sprained ankle, and he and others with bruises were taken to a hospital, where they were treated and released. Three days later professional salvage crews towed the brigantine into navigable water, and the Maritime Institute prepared to have its ship hauled for inspection.

A Coast Guard investigation of the grounding was expected to take several weeks. Gladson says that while he hoped to have his ship back in service in three months, a naval architect he respects told him to expect repairs to take six months or more. Gladson says the Irving Johnson is insured.

* * * * * 


By Jim Flannery/Senior Writer

Tired of taking a beating in the ocean, Barry Flanagan had moved his boat inside the inlet to fish just 10 minutes before he heard a loud crash above the din of waves breaking on a windy March night. The 116-foot motoryacht T.V. had run up on the rocks at the inlet’s north jetty at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“I had a couple of pilchard out,” says Flanagan, a yacht captain who was fishing that night in his 18-foot flats boat. He reeled them in and ran over to help. He was the first boat there. Flanagan couldn’t do much except stand by in case he had to pluck survivors out of the water.

The new $8 million Italian-built Azimut — the first of the builder’s 116-foot flagships — had washed hard up on the rocks, where she would remain for two days while salvage crews struggled to free her.

T.V., a private yacht owned by a Mexican media mogul, travels anonymously with no name on its transom. Its owner of record is Nova Scotia Limited, a Canadian corporation with a Halifax, Nova Scotia, address.

It hadn’t been the best night for a sea trial. Greg Poulos, general manager at Rolly Marine in Fort Lauderdale, says T.V. had been in his yard for two months to tune props, work on the bow thruster, and finish a punch list of minor warranty repairs. Azimut technicians had come from Italy to sea-trial the yacht before it set off for the Dominican Republic. The captain — Fort Lauderdale police identified him as John Montagu Galloway — wanted to run the Azimut’s twin 2,000-hp MTU diesels through their paces that evening, despite a 25-knot southerly that was starting to kick up6-foot breaking waves at the entrance to the inlet.

Poulos says the captain and crew were new hires on the yacht. “Wait until the next day,” Poulos says he advised them.

But Galloway told Poulos that would set their travel plans back 12 hours. “The boss was pushing them to be there in the next two or three days,” Poulos says.

Dead in the water

Altogether seven crewmembers and technicians were on board as T.V. headed out from Rolly for the sea trial late in the afternoon of March 16. The yacht was fully provisioned and laden with diesel fuel — 4,000 gallons in its tanks, plus two 300-gallon bladders in its cockpit. It was drawing a full 8-1/2 feet as a tug from Cape Ann Towing towed it 5-1/2 miles down the New River to the Intracoastal Waterway, a precaution megayacht captains often take if they are unfamiliar with the narrow river that runs through downtown Fort Lauderdale.

Cape Ann owner Courtney Day says his tug left the yacht on its own about 7:45 p.m. Flanagan, who had been out fishing at the red nun just outside the inlet, saw the 116-footer punch out into the ocean about 8:30 p.m. through 8- to 10-foot swells. “I thought to myself, A boat that size, they’re picking a bad night to go out,” he says. Flanagan wasn’t too happy himself with the building swell, so he ran back inside the inlet to calmer water. Twenty minutes later he heard T.V. crash on the jetty.

Galloway told Fort Lauderdale police officer J.M. Genna that the Azimut had finished a short sea trial and was running back in the inlet on the north side of the channel when its props struck something. The engines began to shake and vibrate, so the skipper shifted into neutral to avoid any more engine damage, according to Genna’s report. Then the engines stalled, and for a short time the motoryacht lay dead in the water. Then wind and waves pushed it up onto the rocks. Galloway told police that the towboats, on scene minutes later, couldn’t keep her off the jetty. Salvors say the yacht was on the rocks when they got there. Poulos says it appeared T.V. ran up on the sand right next to the jetty, bent its shafts, lost power, and washed up on the rocks.

The channel is 300 yards wide, with range markers to guide mariners down the center. “He was just too far over,” says Day, the tug company owner. Galloway declined to comment.

Flanagan says the skipper sounded calm and professional as he called the Coast Guard for help to pull the vessel away from the jetty. Sea Tow was first on scene with two of its boats, followed in quick succession by TowBoatU.S. with two boats, and Cape Ann with one. Galloway gave first-responder Sea Tow a shot at pulling the 145-ton yacht off on the rising tide, but it couldn’t do it.

“He was on the rocks pretty good,” says Tim Morgan, Sea Tow Fort Lauderdale’s owner. Then TowBoatU.S. tried. The yacht wouldn’t budge. Finally Galloway asked all the boats to pitch in. Waves breaking on the north jetty compounded the difficulty of pulling the boat off. “There were 6-foot swells breaking over [T.V.’s] cockpit,” says Kevin Collins, TowBoatU.S. general manager. “It was extremely dangerous out there.”

Sinking concerns

Meanwhile, the yacht was rising up and crashing down on the rocks with each breaking wave. Within 30 minutes the hull was badly holed, and water was pouring in, filling the bilge and rising over T.V.’s engines. TowBoatU.S. now had its 96-foot steel workhorse at the inlet, but Collins says more muscle isn’t always the best way to pull a boat off the rocks. “If you can’t finesse it off, then something’s wrong,” he says. “Because of the really rough conditions, we couldn’t put divers in the water to find out what was holding it.”

As it turned out, the running gear was pinned between two rocks. Trying to muscle the boat off could have ripped the shafts out and caused more hull damage.

“We quickly realized that the boat was taking on so much water that pulling it off would be the worst thing we could do,” Collins says. The salvors — and Coast Guard — began to worry now that if they dragged the boat off it could sink in the inlet, shutting down one of Florida’s busiest ports and dumping thousands of gallons of diesel in the water.

The Coast Guard ordered a halt to the operation until TowBoatU.S., now co-salvor with Sea Tow, devised a salvage plan. Meanwhile, the Coast Guard wanted the crew off T.V. Galloway asked for a helicopter to lift them off in the rough seas, but there was an easier way. Sea Tow dropped a line off the boat amidships, enabling the crew to shimmy down the side and wade ashore in the boat’s lee.

By early morning the tide was receding, and the yacht had been secured with anchors fore and aft, as well as lines to the jetty and to vehicles parked landside. The salvors headed home for a few hours’ rest while at the TowBoatU.S. office a salvage plan began to take shape.

Access denied

The first item of business the next morning was to pump the thousands of gallons of diesel off the boat to prevent a spill and lighten the yacht. Sea Tow’s Morgan says it should have been a routine operation except the Points of Americas high-rise at the foot of the jetty wouldn’t let the fuel trucks onto the beach from their driveway, the only beach access. “The condo association had an emergency meeting and voted not to allow us on,” Morgan says.

Collins, of TowBoatU.S., says the association had just paid for a new driveway and didn’t want the trucks to damage it.

“That delayed us six to seven hours,” Morgan says. “The Coast Guard, Department of Environmental Protection, and the insurance representative finally cornered the building manager and read him the riot act.”

Once the driveway was open Cliff Berry Inc., a spill cleanup company, moved its tanker trucks onto the beach. Meanwhile, divers assessed the hull damage.

“There were three holes a man could swim through,” plus numerous punctures you could stick an arm through, Collins says. The running gear — propellers and shafts — had punched through the bottom, the port stabilizer had snapped, the port strut had pushed through the hull, and the bow thruster tube had split open port and starboard. The engines, air conditioner, generators and various pumps all were under water, along with a PWC, diving gear and kayaks that had been stowed below.

On day two the salvors pumped and plugged. They pumped fuel from the tanks and water from the bilge, and plugged holes in the hull with foam, cushions, mattresses — anything pliable they could find. They buttressed these plugs inside with 2-by-4s secured with bottle jacks and outside with plywood screwed to the hull and sealed with epoxy.

The salvage plan called for refloating the yacht, pulling it off the rocks, and towing it to Bradford Marine on the New River, about three hours away at very slow speed. Collins says the alternative, picking it up with a crane and putting it on a barge, would have cost a lot more and probably would have wrecked the hull.

“Once you have a crane and barge involved, you’re almost sure to have catastrophic damage to the boat,” he says.

Success in question

The moment of truth came at high tide on day three. The salvors already had flushed and “pickled” the engines in oil to keep them from rusting, then steam-cleaned the engine room to clean up excess oil. The de-fueling had lightened T.V. by 20 tons. Four large flotation bags in the stern would help refloat the yacht, and 17 small pumps below were poised for action in case water began coming in again.

TowBoatU.S.’s 96-footer, with its twin 1271 Detroit Diesel engines and 52-inch props, took the lead in pulling the boat off. Five smaller tugs had lines on the hull. They were all pulling laterally and slightly forward to ease T.V. off the rocks. The Coast Guard was adamant that the yacht not sink in the channel and close down the port, so the salvors had a backup plan in case it started to go down. They would drag the yacht out of the channel to shoal water along the inlet’s north side.

Collins was below in the engine room as T.V. floated off the rocks. Water began pouring in — more than expected — and for five minutes the operation’s success was very much in question. Collins yelled readings up to crewmembers on deck as water inched up into the engine room, covering marks they had made on the hull to gauge water level.

“There were holes we hadn’t seen because they were buried in the sand,” Collins explains. And some of the patching material probably had ripped off when they dragged the boat over the rocks and into the channel.

Divers rushed back into the water to make emergency patches.

“It was nerve-racking,” Collins says. “I was giving them a reading every minute — how much water we had.”

Within five minutes the water began to recede. In 15 minutes the pumps were keeping ahead of the flow, though some water still was leaking in. Worried about the hull’s integrity, they towed T.V. to Mega Marine Yacht Service, just 45 minutes away in Fort Lauderdale. Mega hauled the yacht, found and thoroughly patched 48 holes in the hull, and put T.V. back into the water. The next day it continued on to Bradford’s … at a very leisurely 2 knots.

There were no injuries, except for some scrapes and bruises, and a broken nose suffered while a crewmember was cutting patching material. In Collins’ view, “Damage due to our efforts was minimal to none.” That will be a factor in deciding what the salvage award will be.

“I would characterize it as a very successful salvage,” he says.

* * * * *

A bad day under the Golden GateBridge

By Jim Flannery

Senior Writer

Joe Schmidt might have guessed it was going to be a bad day on San Francisco Bay when his crewmember slipped at the dock and fell into the water.

Though soaking wet, Dan Brazelton climbed back onto Yachtsea, Schmidt’s 22-foot Santana, and told his skipper he was OK to go.

Three hours later Brazelton, a 30-ish San Francisco film producer, got soaked again as he sailed back to the dock. Yachtsea pitchpoled in breaking surf under the Golden Gate Bridge, dumping the two sailors into the water with surfers, who dodged the boat and then rescued them.

Meanwhile, on shore, Wayne Lambright was snapping off photos of surfers riding the waves. As Yachtsea’s drama unfolded, the amateur lensman took a 130-photo sequence of the boat rolling and the rescue, and posted it on his restaurant review Web site,

Lambright says word of the photos spread like wildfire, drawing over 4 million page views daily at his site (he says he typically gets about 10,000 daily page views) over several days.

Schmidt, 39, a human resources manager from San Carlos, Calif., headed out under the Golden Gate with Brazelton about noon April 2 for an afternoon sail. He says it was windy — about 20 knots out of the west — and the swells were large. Beating out to the ocean, they reached Mile Rock, a mile from the bridge, and decided to call it an afternoon. The ocean was too rough to sail, and Brazelton was getting cold. They were homeward bound, sailing downwind on a port tack and hoping to set the sails wing and wing. Schmidt sent Brazelton forward to set the whisker pole to hold the jib to windward.

Already feeling a little hypothermic, Brazelton “was slipping and sliding all over the deck,” Schmidt says. So he put his crewmember on the tiller and went forward himself. He hooked the pole up but couldn’t set it to windward because the wind was blowing so hard. So he settled for setting the jib to leeward and took the tiller back.

Schmidt had planned to sail under the bridge’s center span, the safest choice when the waters under the south span are roiled with breaking waves. Pacific swells rolling up the bay sometimes reach the Golden Gate and break at the bridge between the south tower and shore — usually close to land. Schmidt says he had transited the bridge many times before under the south span — without incident — by staying well away from shore and from the breaking waves.

Schmidt soon discovered he couldn’t sail high enough to make the center span without taking down the whisker pole, so he decided to hazard the southerly route. As Yachtsea approached the bridge, he was surprised to see surfers — and breaking waves — far out from shore. Fearing he might hit one of the surfers, he focused on them — two to port and a number more to starboard.

“A wave came, and we got through it OK,” he says, but the next one surprised him. “This huge wave [12-foot face, he estimates] lifts up the stern, then lifts up the boat, and throws us into the water.” The boat rolled twice. Schmidt was stunned when his head popped out of the water, and he saw Yachtsea’s keel pointed to the sky as it rolled.

Brazelton, who was wearing a Type III vest, became trapped under the boat for a time when the vest’s straps caught in the rigging. Schmidt — wearing an inflatable vest — pulled the inflate cord.

“Nothing happened,” he says. He later found out the CO2 cartridge, though still good, had shaken loose. In boots and foul weather gear, Schmidt flipped on his back in the rushing surf and yelled for help. It was only moments away. “The surfers were great,” he says. “They saved my life.”

One swam up, told him to grab on piggyback and they surfed a wave in toward shore, where a second surfer put him on his board and paddled him in. Brazelton meanwhile had untangled himself from the rigging and also was hitching a ride in to shore with a surfer.

A racer for 15 years who knows the bay well and even has written about its hazards, Schmidt says he has learned another lesson.

“I will never go near that goddamn south tower again,” he says.

Dismasted, Yachtsea rolled right side up, then sank stern first with its bow barely visible above the water. A salvage vessel, Black Moriah, refloated the beaten-up racer and towed it to a mooring.

Lambright, of San Francisco, a one-time surfer and webmaster of two online commercial sites — in addition to — says the photos he took turned out a bonanza for his Web site.

“It has just been insane,” he says.