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October 10, 2011

Double-Crossing Death on the Pacific

An account of the sinking of a ship named the A.C.E. off the Southern California coast...

Aftermath
For several days after the accident, the Sheriff’s Search and Recovery Team, the Coast Guard and a large number of charter fishing boats and private boat owners searched for the A.C.E., but were unsuccessful in locating the vessel.

By February, fishermen started to notice something on the ocean’s smooth sandy bottom where there hadn’t been anything before. “The San Pedro squid fleet would snag their nets on something in between Seal Rock and Cotton’s Point,” Machado said. “That’s where we rolled, and that’s where I was looking for a possible beach area to swim to in case we weren’t rescued.”

Although Machado went back to work for Everingham Bros., he wasn’t the same. He suffered from posttraumatic stress, his wedding plans were put on hold and he felt his fishing career slipping away.   Losing the A.C.E. was like having an albatross around his neck. “That’s something I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life,” he said. 

To combat the depression, Machado sent hand-written letters to government officials and the Sheriff’s Dept., detailing the rescue and how the efforts of Westberg, the dispatcher and the two deputies saved him and his crew.

On February 8, 2006, Westberg was recognized by The Orange County Board of Supervisors for his civic involvement. Machado and Honicker attended.

A month later, the Sheriff’s Dept. hosted its 18th Annual Medal of Valor Luncheon where Honicker and Endsley received medals for life saving. Buck and Kate Everingham attended and presented the deputies with a plaque as well.

Initially, Machado declined the invitation. By then, he was unemployed and going through a rough period in his life.

When Westberg heard that Machado wasn’t coming, he called and insisted that the captain attend and even offered to drive him to the event.

After Westberg persisted, he reluctantly agreed and afterward said the event put some closure on the accident.

Machado’s life eventually turned around. He married his fiancé Mary—they’d been engaged since before the accident—in 2008; he is now managing the warehouse operations for a national office supply company in San Diego.

Like his captain, Adam Souder returned to Everingham Bros., but a back injury forced him out of the fishing business for good.  Today, he is a shift manager of one of Southern California’s large grocery chains.  

Kane Shanahan declined several requests to be interviewed for this story.  Andrew Rector, according to Shanahan, is believed to be fishing somewhere in American Somoa.

Commercial fishing continues to be one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. In 2007, the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health developed the Commercial Fishing Incident Database. From 2000-2009, 504 commercial fishing deaths were recorded in the U.S. Of those 504 fatalities, the majority occurred after a vessel disaster (261 deaths, 52%) or a fall overboard (155 deaths, 31%).

While the Alaska region had the highest number of deaths (133), the West Coast ranked third with 83.

New Beginnings
Five years after the accident, Hosam Elshenawi, owner of Beach Cities Scuba, and his business partner were discussing ways to market their new business Riviera Charters. They planned to position the Riviera as a general excursion charter out of the Dana Point Harbor as well as to offer scuba divers another opportunity to go diving without having to drive to San Diego, San Pedro or Ventura.

Sitting around a table one afternoon, Elshenawi said, “too bad there isn’t a ship wreck in the area that we could take divers out to.” And his partner answered, “You know, a bait boat sank outside the harbor a few years ago.” Elshenawi’s partner knew the Sheriff deputy who had the vessel’s coordinates, but getting them wouldn’t be that easy.  After approaching the deputy numerous times and persuading him about how important it was for their new charter business, he relented. 

Soon after, Elshenawi assembled a search team that included D.J. Mansfield and Andrew Bolling.  Using the Riviera’s sonar, they passed over the coordinates several times, verified the bump and dumped markers in a 50-yard square. 

Mansfield, who used a single steel 100-cubic-foot cylinder with 31 percent Nitrox, needed only 12 minutes to find the A.C.E.  “I started a u-shaped pattern oriented north to south. The first thing I noticed was all of the fish. That indicated to me that we were in the right area. As my bottom time clicked to 12 minutes, I was about to give up at 114 feet. I was on my fourth pattern when I saw a shadow to my left. I meandered over and ran right into the mast,” said Mansfield, an experienced wreck diver.  “The very first thing out of my regulator was a garbled ‘HOLY COW!’, and I did a little dance on the sea floor. I couldn’t believe how encrusted she was. She’s covered in anemones.”

After Mansfield returned to the Riviera, another team went down and rigged the buoy system.  In less than a day, the team opened up a new chapter in the A.C.E.’s history, which had served the sport fishing community from the Mexican border to Newport Beach for nearly 20 years.

The Riviera started taking divers out to the A.C.E. in August 2010.

 

Notes

1. Turning the A.C.E. in the right direction (heading into the swells in this case) and at the right speed could have maintained a fairly dry deck, at least enough to open the hatch long enough to open the suction valve so the pump could strip the compartment until a safe port was reached. This had been done on a few occasions and Machado was aware of the procedure, according to Buck Everingham.

2. Based on the forecast for Friday night into Saturday, Everingham advised his captain to wait, but Machado, who had been “on the street” for a week, was anxious to go. Adam Souder is on record saying that waiting an extra 12 hours would not have reduced their chances of catching bait fish.    

 

 

EXTRA: Designing the A.C.E.

After World War II, the Everingham family got out of tuna fishing and moved into the live bait business. 

Adolphus Charles “Buck” Everingham went to work for Lyman McDonald who owned Mac’s Bait. Soon after, Adolphus’ son Roy got tired of chasing tuna as well and joined his father at the bait company.  MacDonald, who was looking to exit the business, eventually sold it to the Everinghams.

Two years later, Roy took over the business after his father died suddenly at age 52. He later bought out his brother Charles.

Everingham continued to modernize the business and by the mid-1980s wanted to expand the fleet by adding another catcher for short hauls.

Like other California fisherman at the time, Everingham figured that if he built the new boat to meet the 58-foot Alaskan limit seiner length he’d have a better chance of reselling the vessel into the world’s largest salmon fishing market, if the opportunity presented itself. (A “seine” is a net while a “seiner” refers to a type of fishing boat that is equipped with a net.)   

Limit seiners are known for their long clean decks, a boom and the motorized skiff that is often seen riding piggyback from the vessel’s stern. The main cabin, set on the forward half of the deck, carries topside controls to give the skipper a clear lookout for bait schools and tidal conditions.

Everingham’s design included two long compartments on the port and starboard side of the bait tanks, which were air voids to enhance stability. The port side compartment ran from the engine room bulkhead to the lazarette (rear) bulkhead. On the starboard side, there was a doorway leading into a pump alley (housing all the pumps and valves) that took up roughly half of the size of the air void compartment on the port side. Behind the pump alley was a smaller air void. There was access from the engine room into the pump alley, but the only way to get into to the port side compartment was from a circular deck hatch.

The hatches were located about six inches from an 18-inch platform where the net drum was positioned.  Combined, the net and the drum weighed 20,000 pounds.

When fully loaded, the deck was only a foot above the water line.

Running at full speed in smooth conditions, a small amount of water would pool at the aft step to the net reel deck from the wave of its own wake.

The bait tanks were positioned below the deck with fresh circulating seawater bringing in oxygen to keep the fish alive, similar to an aquarium.

The two fuel tanks were located in the stern to help ballast.

Everingham selected Peacock Boat Building in Wilmington, Calif. to build the boat.  Named after the family patriarch Adolphus Charles Everingham, the A.C.E. was launched in 1987.

--Scott Marshutz