The SUN BEAUTY’S LAST VOYAGE
A true story
Written & edited by: Arnold Fernandes
It was a sunny morning in July 1947 when we left San Diego with a crew of ten headed south down the Mexican Coast in search of tuna.
After spending a few days in the shipyard at San Diego Marine Construction in San Diego the Sun Beauty looked like a yacht with its new white paint job.
The tuna clipper “ Sun Beauty” was about 100 feet long and she carried about 100 ton of tuna packed in ice and brine.
The weather was fair heading out of San Diego for the first few hours as we headed down the coast toward Mexico. During the late afternoon the seas began to build up due to a chubasco brewing off of Cabo San Lucas, but not bad enough to cause any concern.
At midnight I was awakened by a crew member to take my watch at the helm. All went well during my four hour watch, with no indication of any problems.
At 4: AM I was relieved of my watch by another crew member; I headed for the galley for a quick cup of coffee before hitting the sack.
As I started falling asleep I felt the ship starting to roll a little more than before but not enough to be alarmed. At about five AM I felt my feet going up in the air and my head wedged against the starboard side of my bunk. I knew then we were in trouble. I reached down to the bunk below me where “Red” the navigator was sleeping and shook him saying “Red let’s get the hell out of here the ships going over and she’s not coming back”.
As I looked out at the open door I saw the water coming over the starboard rail and into the cabin. Red and I managed to get out of the cabin onto the deck where most of the crew was climbing over the rail ready to abandon ship.
My brother Clarence Fernandes, the skipper, was already on deck telling the crew to stay calm and telling them not to jump as we would probably never find them in the water. I ran around the deck with my knife cutting anything loose that would float so that passing ships might see the debris and the crew would have something to hold on to if they ended up in the ocean.
Then I went up to the pilot house to try turning the rudder hard over in hopes of righting the ship, but she was too far gone and would not respond.
We lost our speedboat and small skiff when the ship rolled over, but as the ship filled with water it righted itself giving us a few minutes to launch the large net tender skiff. We had to launch the skiff by brute force as all the booms and equipment failed.
The Sun Beauty was on its starboard side and moving in a slow circle as she filled up with water. My brother Clarence held on to the bow line as the crew boarded the skiff, telling them to stand by astern, until we were able to board.
As the ship filled with water the engine room flooded, we lost all power and the Sun Beauty began to sink, bow first.
For some unknown reason I picked up a bottle of Seagram’s VO and a can of asparagus that was rolling around on the deck. Little did I know then that this can of asparagus would be instrumental in saving our lives?
When the crew was safe and accounted for, I threw the bottle of VO and the can of asparagus into the skiff as my brother and I boarded. If we had not saved the large skiff I’m afraid we would all have been lost at sea.
My brother and I were the last to leave the ship before she took her final plunge.
The last thing I saw, a sight that I will never forget was “Sun Beauty, San Diego” on the stern before she disappeared below the surface. The whole crew had tears in their eyes. It took about fifteen minutes for the Sun Beauty to sink.
We were all in our shorts as we had no time to dress. Our clothes and all our belongings went down with the ship. We spent all day in the skiff rowing bailing water out of the skiff and looking at the horizon for ships.
We tried to head toward shore hoping that someone would see us or some of the debris left floating after the Sun Beauty went down.
About six hours later we saw a couple of Albacore boats on the horizon headed for Colonet to escape the oncoming chubasco but we were so low in the water they could not see us. When we went up on a swell we could see the horizon but when we went down all you could see was water.
At about 5PM when the sun was going down on the Horizon we spotted a small boat headed south toward Colonet. I figured this is our last chance. I picked up the can of asparagus polished the lid with my hand and began sending an SOS, dit---dit---dit--- dah___dah___dah_dit…dit…dit…__, pointing the can directly at the sun and at the boats flying bridge. Our hearts began to sink as we watched the small albacore boat head south, then all of a sudden it turned and headed toward us, they saw the SOS flashing above the waves. It took what seemed a lifetime for them to reach us.
When they saw we were all OK they threw us a line, my brother, me and a couple of crew members boarded the “Lillian Ann” an albacore boat out of Fort Brag that wasn’t much larger than the skiff we were in. The remainder of our crew stayed in the skiff as we were towed into the harbor at Colonet.
The “Lillian Ann” with two crew men on board was small but very sea worthy , they had no radio but she saved our lives. She was the last vessel headed in before the sun went down. I don’t know if we could have made it through the night with the storm ready to hit.
When we arrived at Colonet we found a boat with a radio and relayed a message to the US Coast Guard in San Diego.
The next day the 165 foot Coast Guard Cutter Perseus , out of San Diego arrived to pick us up. They gave us food and water, a pair of jeans and T-shirt so we didn’t have to land in San Diego in our shorts.
AS we approached the embarcadero in San Diego we could see our families waiting .
Someone had spread a rumor earlier that the Sun Beauty had gone down with all hands, so our families were very worried.
Everyone in our crew was questioned by the insurance company and the US Coast Guard as to what made the Sun Beauty roll over and sink. No one could come up with the answer. My theory was that the ship took on a large wave from the port side rolling her over to starboard and causing the ice in the hold to shift from port to starboard. Today this still remains a mystery.
Two weeks later my brother purchased another ship called the “Sea Wolf” we fueled up, put on supplies, kissed the family goodbye and headed back out to sea again.