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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 7:29 p.m., Monday, October 1, 2007

Grounded sailboat removed from reef at Tonggs | Video

By Dave Dondoneau
Advertiser Staff Writer


The sailboat Victoria continued to list this morning after it ran aground at the surf spot known as Tongg’s. The three-man crew sailed the Victoria from California for 17 days and tried to land at the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor before getting into trouble.

Richard Ambo | The Honolulu Advertiser

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See video.

A state contractor will complete cleanup work tomorrow on a 42-foot sailboard, which went aground early today on the reef at Tonggs, the popular surf-break site off Diamond Head.

Department of Land & Natural Resources spokeswoman Deborah Ward said contractor Cates International removed large pieces of the yacht Victoria, which was split in half, as well as rigging and debris today and will return tomorrow to finish the job.

"They'll be removing the engine, keel and anchor, which are on the bottom, as soon as possible tomorrow," Ward said.

Pacific Environmental Corp., contracted by the Coast Guard, completed pollution containment and removal of fuel and lubricants from the vessel today at 2 p.m. The Honolulu Fire Department assisted in helping four people from the sailboat, HFD spokesman Capt. Earle Kealoha said.

The sailboat was about 100 yards offshore, Ward said in a news release.

After taking control of the vessel, DLNR contracted Cates International to remove it, Ward said. The boat split in half, releasing smaller pieces of debris, and cleanup was started by Penco and turned over later to Cates.

The state will seek reimbursement for removal costs from the boat owner, Ward said.

According to state law, all costs and expenses of the removal, and damages to state or private property, are the sole responsibility of the vessel owner or operator, Ward said. In instances where the vessel owner or operator refuses to assume all financial responsibilities, DLNR may take legal action to collect any costs or expenses incurred for any removal, she added.

After 3,300 miles of travel at sea the crew on the sailboat Victoria could easily see the lights of the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor, their final destination last night.

"We turned around Diamond Head and you could see the Ala Wai," shipmate Ron Fulwider, 58, said. "A mile, maybe two away and then ..."

And then, so close to home, the Victoria sailed too close to shore and ran aground on a reef at one of Waikiki's most popular surf spots, Tonggs. With the ship teetering on its side and stuck on a reef, Fulwider called his wife, who arrived on O'ahu a day earlier so she could be here to greet the trio of elderly sailors who were finally finishing a long trek from San Pedro, Calif.

Renee Fulwider stood on shore during the entire ordeal last night, along with some interested bystanders who live nearby and offered Fulwider water and a place to wait until her husband and friends could get to shore.

Ron Fulwider, his uncle and ship captain Pat Magee, 75, and Magee's 68-year-old friend Jerry Manning had set sail for Hawaii on Sept. 1 on a sailboat that Magee had purchased three years ago on eBay for $4,300. A longtime seaman, Magee bought the boat so he could travel from his home on Maui around the Islands. He spent the past two years and "twenty to thirty thousand dollars" renovating the boat before they set sail to bring it home.

"We had a couple of false starts starting out," said Fulwider, a California resident. "We had to turn around three days out to sea because one crew member got so belligerent so we had to bring him back and drop him off. That was six days. This trip, we were at sea 17 days."

Fulwider initially called his wife last night to tell her the Victoria was circling Diamond Head and in the homestretch. He called back shortly after telling her to call the Coast Guard because the boat had run too close to shore and was grounded.

"Pat's a seasoned sailor," Fulwider said. "I couldn't believe it. This was my first trip overseas, but it was his eighth.

"I feel terrible for him. He spent a lot of time working on that boat. He hasn't had one the past few years. This was going to get him from island to island."

The Fire Department responded to the boat in distress call before 1 a.m., but when the crew arrived the three men aboard refused to leave the ship. At the time, they said, it wasn't taking on water and high tide in the morning may have been able to lift it back into the deeper channel, about 30 yards away.

Around 2 a.m., that changed. Trying to nudge the boat out, the trio lifted the boat's sail -- but that only served to tighten the reef's grip on the boat as it tilted to the side. Soon after it started to fill with water and the fire department was called back.

The sailboat was stuck offshore and two neighbors who had heard the commotion outside grabbed a kayak and surfboard to help out. Fulwider was the first to jump into the water and walk to safety, bringing all his electronics in an air-tight cooler before walking out to boat again to get more valuables and also to urge his mates to shore.

Manning soon followed, then Magee.

All three kept a sense of humor about the experience.

Manning, sitting alongside a building as firefighters checked their vitals, pulled out a yellow piece of police tape that had the words "CALL POLICE" in big black letters.

"They laughed at my survival kit," Manning said, waving the sign. "What time is first flight out?"

Fulwider, who owns a boat shop in California, hopes the Victoria isn't done yet.

"If we can get a salvage boat here and some pumps, I think we can save it," he said.

Dave Dondoneau is the overnight reporter for The Advertiser. You can reach him between 11:30 p.m. and 7 a.m. weekdays at 525-8048 or ddondoneau@honoluluadvertiser.com