‘Ghost ship’? Not quite, but anchored boat’s presence in La Jolla marine reserve haunts some local residents

A lone sailboat that has been anchored off the coast of Bird Rock for weeks is causing concern among La Jolla residents.
A lone sailboat, pictured Nov. 7, that has been anchored off the coast of Bird Rock for weeks is causing concern among La Jolla residents, but local, state and federal agencies say it’s there legally.
(Trace Wilson)

Despite some La Jolla residents calling it a “ghost ship” and raising environmental and legal concerns, a lone sailboat anchored in a marine reserve off the coast of Bird Rock is in fact inhabited by its owner and is there legally, according to local, state and federal agencies.

The boat, at first seemingly abandoned and visible from La Jolla Hermosa Park, the Camino de la Costa viewpoint and other nearby spots, was initially spotted about four weeks ago by residents of the Bird Rock and Lower Hermosa neighborhoods. Since then, it has been without a sail and unmoving about a half-mile off the coast in the South La Jolla State Marine Reserve.

Beverly Barton, a Bird Rock resident who has a direct view of the boat, said she saw it when it arrived in the marine reserve on Monday, Oct. 11.

“The person who dropped it off got in a [what appeared to be a dinghy] and left,” she said. “It was on a really windy day; [the sailboat] was rocking back and forth. … It was really tossing around.”

She said she hasn’t seen the person return.

The occupant of the boat could not be located for comment.

Bird Rock resident Trace Wilson said he has seen the vessel daily and alerted the San Diego Police Department.

Officer Ariel Del Toro, community relations officer for SDPD’s Northern Division, told the La Jolla Light that the department is “not involved in the investigation.”

Monica Muñoz, spokeswoman for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, confirmed that the boat is anchored in a Marine Protected Area, which extends three miles from the shore.

Muñoz said lifeguards contacted the boat’s owner after they received complaints that it appeared to be abandoned.

“It’s not [abandoned],” Muñoz said. “It’s not a ghost ship. It’s inhabited by the owner, who is not violating any laws.”

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife website states that access and activities in a marine reserve, “including, but not limited to, walking, swimming, boating and diving, may be restricted to protect marine resources.”

It is illegal “to injure, damage, take or possess any living geological or cultural marine resource,” the department says. Also, “the area shall be open to the public” and maintained “in an undisturbed and unpolluted state.”

Muñoz said the boater off Bird Rock “has not been observed doing anything that violates the MPA.”

Steve Gonzalez, public information officer for Fish and Wildlife, also said the boat is not in the MPA illegally. “If the boat is in the South La Jolla State Marine Reserve, anchoring is allowed and there is no limit for how long they may stay there.”

Adam Stanton, a spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard, said that since the vessel is not causing pollution and isn’t the subject of a search and rescue, “it’s up to the owner to remove” it.

“It’s a non-case” for the Coast Guard, Stanton said.

The boat anchored off Bird Rock, pictured Nov. 3, is inhabited by its owner, according to San Diego lifeguards.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Matt O’Malley, executive director and managing attorney for nonprofit environmental group San Diego Coastkeeper, said “part of the goal of the MPAs, besides providing a sanctuary for marine life and conserving biological diversity, is to enhance recreational and educational opportunities for Californians. We fought hard to get these spaces established, and we encourage San Diegans to enjoy those spaces so long as they’re following the rules.”

However, some Bird Rock residents continue to express concerns. Don Schmidt, who has seen the boat daily since its arrival, said he’s worried about its ongoing presence in the marine reserve. He said he has seen “zero” signs of life on or near the boat, other than another boat next to it the evening of Oct. 29.

“There’s no light at night” on the boat, which he said puts it at risk of being hit by another vessel. He said he’s also concerned that the boat could sink or become loose and cause environmental damage.

Plus, he wondered whether it might lead other boaters to anchor there and make it “open season to live on boats in a marine reserve.” ◆