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Dive boat Conception lost in fire, 34 passengers feared dead

WON Staff Writer

UPDATED September 3, 2019 9:40AM

Authorities announced the recovery of 25 bodies, victims of the Conception disaster. A further 9 remained listed as missing but hopes were fading.

SANTA BARBARA — The 75-foot dive boat Conception out of SEA Landing was lost early Monday morning due to an uncontrollable fire that engulfed the boat while it was in Platts Harbor on the north side of Santa Cruz Island.

Five crewmembers were rescued by the pleasure craft Grape Escape, but 34 passengers who were believed to be asleep in the boat’s main berthing area were initially reported missing. A preliminary search of the wreckage found four bodies. Although authorities embarked on a search for the remaining passengers, hopes were dim.



LOST AT SEA — The dive boat Conception burned and sank just offshore of Santa Cruz Island early Monday morning. Very little information was available by press time. Four bodies had been recovered, and the rest of the 34 passengers were missing, but hopes were faint.

Very little information was available by press time. Photos taken by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department showed the fire burned to the waterline. U.S. Coast Guard spokesperson Capt. Monica Rochester said the remains of the boat sank in 64 feet of water some 24 yards from shore.

The Coast Guard received a mayday call from an unidentified Conception crewman at 3:30 a.m. During the garbled transmission, he said there were 39 people onboard and that he couldn’t breathe.

The Conception was on the final day of a 3-day trip and was due back in port in Santa Barbara at 5 p.m. The boat, launched in 1981, is owned and operated by Truth Aquatics, a dive company that has offered trips to the Channel Islands since 1974. The company’s two other boats are the Truth and the Vision.

Disaster strikes the Prowler

WON Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Just as the hottest, most consistent offshore bite of the season cranked on — disaster. The 332-foot, $300 million yacht Attessa IV plowed into the boat Prowler as she returned from a one-day trip to Seaforth Sportfishing, Mission Bay.

THE PROWLER SUSTAINED serious damage during a collision with the yacht Attessa IV. TROY LLIJEBLAD PHOTO

The Prowler was headed for Seaforth Sportfishing in Mission Bay in foggy conditions, for a 9 p.m. turn-and-burn turnaround. She was about an hour-and-thirty minutes from the dock at 7:30 p.m. Friday evening when she and the Attessa IV collided, apparently nearly head-on.

Photos now circulating online showed the results graphically. The starboard rail — gone! The starboard side of the cabin and house, crushed. The hull, from the cabin aft to the stern — torn open — down to just a foot above the waterline.

Capt. Jeffrey Markland of the Newport-based Thunderbird and close friend of the Prowler’s owner, Capt. Andrew Viola, commented, “Like a locomotive through a gingerbread house.”

Indeed, Dennis Washington, owner of the Attessa IV, is quoted by Forbes as having earlier said of the Evergreen Shipping built vessel, “Chairman Chang built the boat like a warship...” Washington is listed as the 88th richest person in America, according to Forbes 2018 list, with a net worth of nearly $6 billion.

DAMAGE TO THE Attessa IV appeared limited to scratches on the bow. DINA GRIVETTO PHOTO

The Prowler is a 60-foot Ditmar Donaldson wood vessel built for Capt. Bill Poole. She was originally christened the Polaris II. As the Prowler, she was owned and operated by Capt. Buzz Brizindine, Fisherman’s Landing, for many years. She was purchased by Capt. Viola just this past winter.

The Coast Guard reported, “A Coast Guard Sector San Diego MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew and a Coast Guard Station San Diego 45-foot Response Boat-Medium crew were dispatched to respond. The Coast Guard Cutter Sea Otter was also diverted to assist.

“Crews arrived on scene at approximately 8:45 p.m. The Jayhawk crew hoisted a critically injured passenger and returned to Sector San Diego where awaiting EMS took the man to UC San Diego Medical Center – Hillcrest in critical condition.

“The RB-M crew transferred 17 passengers, two reporting injuries, from the Prowler and took them to Sector San Diego.”

With 28 total persons aboard the Prowler, 10 were transported to San Diego aboard the Attessa IV. Capt. Viola stayed aboard the Prowler while awaiting the arrival of a commercial salvage vessel. The Cutter Sea Otter stayed alongside.

The damage sustained by the Attessa IV appeared to be limited to scratches on the hull at the bow and partway down her port side.

James Bon said his longtime friend Rick Neff ultimately succumbed to the injuries he sustained. In another report Neff was said to have been seated in the starboard side of the galley at the time of the collision.


THE PROWLER IN the yard post-collision.

Ultimately the Prowler was successfully towed to Marine Group Boat Works in National City. Capt. Jack Webster shared a photo of the initial haul-out on the travel lift. In that image it appeared the starboard chine failed at the aft lifting straps at haul. That area was without the support of the then missing hull members. The entire starboard shear-clamp (where the deck joins the hull) was missing from just aft the flare of the bow, almost to the stern.

Scott Hennessy had captured the AIS track of the yacht, as it headed slightly west of south, outbound from Point Loma. He said the AIS feed showed the Attessa making 13.5kts at the time of the accident.

Paul Morgan, a passenger aboard the Prowler, posted, “I was on the boat last night and Andrew and the crew were nothing short of heroic. From everything I saw the Captain of the Attessa was hauling ass in the dark on autopilot and ran us down. Please pray for my friend’s wife who lost her husband.”

Few specifics were available officially, as the collision is the subject of an ongoing USCG investigation.

Ranger 85 scores 345-pound bluefin!
Biggest blue ever landed

on SoCal sportboat

GETTING A 345-POUND TUNA off the Ranger 85 back at the H&M Landing dock proved to be a challenge. WON PHOTO BY MIKE STEVENS


WON Staff Writer

POINT LOMA — As an experienced offshore angler, it would take a special beast for Joe Rodr of San Diego to pull the “fish of a lifetime” card, and he did exactly that with a 345-pound bluefin tuna he stuck on the Ranger 85 out of H&M Landing. You might say Captain Robert Gray and the crew of the vessel — not to mention, owner Frank Ursitti — could say the same thing as the tanker fish is already being tabbed as the biggest-ever sport-boat caught bluefin on the West Coast.

I followed Ursitti and Katherine Miller down the ramp to meet the Ranger 85 on the dock when it arrived. Ursitti quickly jumped on, ran up to get a look at it in the hold, and came back saying, “Whoa! jumbo!” to which one of the passengers said, “it was a five gaffer.”

Getting the tuna off the boat and into the cart was an adventure in itself. Unable to make the turn down the stairs, it was slid right through the top of the stairs into a cart with a legitimate risk of losing both tuna and cart off the dock and into San Diego Bay. The behemoth was then safely carted up the ramp to the scale and waiting crowd consisting of other crews, landing staffers, media, fish processors and random passers-by in front of the landing.

RANGER 85 CREW wheeling the big fish up the ramp to the scale in front of the landing where a nice crowd was waiting. WON PHOTO BY MIKE STEVENS

After a call from the Ranger 85 the night before revealed they had a bluefin that taped out over 350, everyone wanted to see the official weight, especially Rodr, who happened to be on his 50th birthday trip when blue lightning struck. When the digital scale settled at 345 with the occasional tick heavier, Ursitti blurted out a tongue-in-cheek “55 more pounds, boys!” to the Captain and crew, now posing for photos with Rodr and the tuna.

The crew of the Ranger 85 was understandably tight lipped about the details of the catch, so they should be taken with a drop of saltwater. It was a 2.5-day trip, and the tuna was caught at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday with a kite rig, 130-pound main line with a 300-pound leader coming off an Okuma Makaira clamped to a Seeker rail rod.

At that point, the particulars become hazy. The official word as to what was dangling below the kite was a sardine. The company answer to the location of the catch was “back side of San Clemente Island” with a smirk.

Total score for the 27 anglers on board were 4 bluefin to go along with a sack-filling 83 yellowfin, 35 skippies and 3 dorado.

Wherever it was, it’s clear that the Ranger 85 has a cow-tuna ace up its sleeve and may be looking to play it a few more times in 2017. Maybe the crew is accepting Ursitti’s challenge to find a 400 pounder. Either way, hopping on the Ranger 85 loaded for bear down the stretch here looks like a great call.

FISH OF A LIFETIME — San Diego angler Joe Rodr (white shirt) with Ranger 85 Captain Robert Gray (next to Rodr) and the boat’s crew with a 345-pound bluefin believed to be the biggest bluefin ever taken on a West Coast sportfisher. WON PHOTO BY MIKE STEVENS

35th anniversary edition of Lake Havasu event this weekend, May 13-14


Engel Coolers, Alaska fishing trips included in 1st place Striper Derby prize package

COOLER BACKPACKS FROM Engel are ideal for the outdoorsman, featuring a rugged, tear-resistant outer shell and a waterproof TPE coating for easy cleaning.

Numerous winners at the WON/Lake Havasu Striper Derby score big year after year, and 2017 will be no different, as the first place team at this May’s event will walk home pretty well loaded. Come this Sunday’s awards ceremony at the London Bridge Convention Center, the duo who tops the field with the most total poundage of striped bass at the conclusion of the two-day Derby are sure to be smiling ear to ear.

Included at the top of the 2017 first place prize package are a pair of fishing trips of a lifetime to Alaska, two high-end 80-quart Engel Coolers, a couple pairs of Costa Sunglasses and a pair of Lew’s rods and reels — Super-Duty Wide Speed-Spool baitcast reels armed on Custom Speed Stick Super-Duty rods — just to name a few. Those landing in the runner-up spot will earn a pair of Lew’s TP1 rods and BB2 reels, Costa shades and Engel backpacks as top prizes. Third through 10th place will also be headed home with some great gear from Striper Derby sponsors.

That’s not to mention the cold, hard cash that is up for grabs this coming weekend. Aside from a guaranteed 20 blind bogey checks going out at Sunday’s awards ceremony, there will also be checks prepared for the anglers who catch the five biggest linesides over the course of the two-day tournament, along with some big bucks going out for the heaviest three fish landed by anglers in the High Roller Division.

Throw that on top of the heap of raffle prizes set to be dished out to competing anglers — including the grand prize of a Klamath 16 EXW with a 40hp Suzuki on the back, Costa sunglasses, Plano tackle solutions and much more — and there are more than enough reasons to throw your hat in the ring this weekend. 

We hope to see you at Anderson Toyota on Friday and with a bulging bag of stripers at Saturday’s weigh-ins. Catch ya at Havasu!

Engel Coolers hit the mark 


ENGEL 80-QUART COOLERS are among the highlights of the prize package going out to the 1st place team at Striper Derby 2017.

The latest sponsor to join the 2017 Striper Derby fray, Engel Coolers has stepped in to award a quartet of both high-end Engel 80-quart coolers along with four Cooler BackPacks at this year’s event. Here are some of the reasons Engel leads the way in cooler technology:

— Rotational molding process allows for incorporation of features that makes the coolers stronger and more durable.

— Increased thickness of cooler’s sides, top and bottom combined with injected poly­urethane insulation dramatically increases cooler’s ice-keeping capabilities by days, or even weeks.

— Improved latches and molded-in, full-length hinge create ultra-tight seal to keep cooler cold for longer and keep you in the field or on the water as long as possible.

— Specially designed sloping floor and lowered drain hole allows for easy drainage.

— Multiple sizes for any application (from the 21-plus-quart Engel 25 to the cavernous 317-quart Engel 320).

— With the ability to keep food chilled for up to three weeks, outdoorsmen can get fish and game to the processer fresh as can be without worrying about spoilage.

Rockfish Rumble moved back a week
Rockfish Rumble is moved back a week due to weather


Due to poor weather expected this Thursday, the fifth annual WON Rockfish Rumble has been postponed one week, said Rumble Director Ben Babbitt who has been calling all 150 entrants. The fifth annual Rumble based out of Ventura Sportfishing  has been moved to Thursday, April 13. A few spots are now available due to the change in schedule as a few anglers had to drop off, and you can grab one of those spots on one the four boats for $85.

Call Ben Babbitt at (949) 366-0726 to grab one of the open spots. Email him at to let him know you saw this and are aware of the date change, and whether you will be able to reschedule for the 13th.

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