Witness, passenger recall sinking yacht
July 9, 2012
A three-level, $3.25 million luxury yacht sank at a dock in the Tahoe Keys Marina early this week.
On Monday morning, the Sierra Rose sat partially submerged at its prominent location near the mouth of the marina.
The floating dock leading to the vessel jutted out of the water at a 45-degree angle. The lowest level of the 86-foot yacht was completely underwater, while the second level of the vessel was partially submerged. The yacht remained in a similar position Tuesday afternoon.
What caused the vessel to sink is unknown.
Heather Contreras, a Turlock resident who is staying in the Keys, said she heard “a loud and prolonged tearing of metal” about 9:30 p.m. Sunday as the yacht was either pulling in or leaving its dock in the Keys.
At least 15 people were aboard the vessel at the time, Contreras said.
One passenger yelled “oh no” following the sound, Contreras said.
The yacht did not immediately sink and people remained on the vessel for more than an hour after the metallic sound, Contreras said.
Lynn Johnson, a Phoenix, Ariz., resident who said he was on the Sierra Rose Sunday evening disputed much of Contreras’ account.
The boat went to Emerald Bay carrying six passengers without incident Sunday, Johnson said.
A guest on the Sierra Rose on previous occasions, Johnson said there were no issues or problems experienced during the Sunday excursion or upon its return to the Keys.
There was no metallic sound, Johnson added.
He said it was only after fellow passengers woke up to standing water in their sleeping cabins that people on board realized something was wrong.
The boat started taking on water about 2:30 a.m. Monday morning. Passengers abandoned ship about 3:10 a.m. and the ship started going down about 3:30 a.m., Johnson said.
South Lake Tahoe police are investigating the incident, but have not determined a cause of the sinking, said Lt. David Stevenson.
The boat’s thick steel would not be susceptible to a hull breach and the cause of the sinking won’t be known until the vessel is raised, Johnson said.
“Nobody is going to know until they get it up and get it inspected,” Johnson said.
Mike Stewart, the owner of the ship, was at the helm Sunday, Johnson said. Stewart did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday.
Water-quality regulators took a look at the area Monday and found no evidence of pollutants entering Lake Tahoe following the sinking.
The ship has a fuel capacity of 650 gallons. A protective boom was placed around the vessel to contain any oil or gas that could leak from the boat, said Chuck Curtis, supervising water resources control engineer with the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board.
A significant release of pollutants is unlikely because of the sealed nature of the boat’s fuel and sewage tanks, Curtis said. Kitchen chemicals were removed from the dry upper level of the vessel, Curtis said.
The Sierra Rose sold at auction for $3.25 million in August 2008. The handcrafted mahogany luxury yacht boasts three bedrooms, three and a half bathrooms, granite fireplaces marble tile floors, an outdoor Jacuzzi Tub and a helicopter pad. As recently as 2006, the Sierra Rose was billed as the largest noncommercial boat on Lake Tahoe.
The vessel can hold about 100 guests comfortably in the summer months, according to a online 2008-09 rate sheet. Renting the vessel for a four-hour private event cost $8,000 at the time. Taking the Sierra Rose on the lake requires a licensed captain, according to the rate sheet.
The vessel was brought to Tahoe in three pieces and assembled on a barge at the Tahoe Keys Marina in the winter of 2005, according to a August 2006 article in the Tribune.
Crews were on scene Monday morning with a barge-mounted crane assessing the vessel.