A sunken ship becomes a rising star for anglers, divers

Scuba divers explore the shipwrecked A.C.E., a bait boat that went down during a wind-whipped storm in November 2005 
Photo Boonchob Vijarnsorn

By Scott Marshutz - San Clemente Times

In August of 2010, I signed up as a volunteer diver for the annual Dana Point Harbor cleanup. While I was picking up my gear, one of the guys at the dive shop asked me if I was interested in diving a wreck just a few miles outside of the harbor. I was curious. There’s a wreck outside the harbor ?

The following day, my wife Linda and I joined several other divers on the newly launched Riviera and headed out. The dive master had only bits and pieces of the wreck’s history, but after we descended to 114 feet we realized the vessel wasn’t sunk to create an artificial reef; it was an accident and we wondered what happened.

It’s a story about how a seemingly routine fishing trip goes horribly wrong and a prime example of why commercial fishing continues to be one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health’s Commercial Fishing Incident Database.

But in this case, luck trumps death and serious injury.

This week marks six years since the A.C.E.’s sinking, and the boat has begun a new chapter, attracting sport fishermen and divers alike.

Completely intact and resting on her portside with her mast pointing away from shore, an ecosystem is thriving on the vessel. It’s rich with strawberry and white-plume anemones. Bass are abundant and what looks like rust in several areas are a large number of rockfish that literally carpet portions of the deck.

Back at home that afternoon, I fired up my laptop and searched the Internet. In seconds, several articles popped up about the ship’s sinking and its dramatic rescue.

Early in the morning on November 26, 2005, the A.C.E., a 58-foot drum seiner, was en route to the harbor after a night of bait fishing. The forecast for the area northwest of Oceanside called for strong offshore winds starting after midnight, which kicked up a sharp and quick chop producing vertically shaped waves breaking only seconds apart, according to interviews with crew and news and weather reports.

As the A.C.E. headed on a northeasterly course, the swells, some as high as eight to 10 feet, began slamming its portside. Compounding the problem was a suspect deck hatch, also on the vessel’s portside, recalled crewmembers.

The only access point to check if water was leaking into the compartment was through the hatch itself. But with a foot of water covering it, there was no way the crew could open it without getting washed off the deck.

After more than an hour of relentless pounding, the boat started to submarine itself, and the list was becoming more radical as the boat ran in the trough.

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