RICHMOND -- A 70-foot schooner that has been a familiar sight on the Bay for more than 20 years is now underwater off Point Potrero, and its future is in peril.

The schooner Aldebaran, owned by Brickyard Cove residents Hayden and Fern Brown, has been submerged on the breakwater off the Richmond shoreline since July 4, when it was returning from an outing to view fireworks.

The schooner has carried thousands of passengers over the years and has been an annual participant in the Pirate Festival in Vallejo since its inception seven years ago.

The Aldebaran was carrying 19 passengers July 4, and ultimately the U.S. Coast Guard had to be summoned to remove them from the craft.

The Richmond-based schooner Aldebaran has been a familiar sight on the Bay and at events such as the Pirate Festival in Vallejo.
The Richmond-based schooner Aldebaran has been a familiar sight on the Bay and at events such as the Pirate Festival in Vallejo. ( Fern and Hayden Brown)

"The waves were so bad the Coast Guard had trouble pulling the 19 people off," Fern Brown said.

While the passengers were all safe and sound, the boat eventually began taking on water. Hayden Brown, 77, wanted to stay aboard the boat he designed and built, but the Coast Guard insisted he leave.

Overnight, the waves pushed the schooner against the rocks, damaging it further.

Hayden Brown returned to try to bail the water out but ultimately gave up.

"We got a salvage company that was able to get the fuel off, but they couldn't move the boat," Fern Brown said.

Now, the schooner has been in the water for more than a week, its two masts visible on the outside of the breakwater at Ferry Point, as the couple tries to figure out their best options for salvaging and making it seaworthy again.


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"The Aldebaran has taken a lot of damage, but we have hope," Fern Brown said.

The distinctive red-sailed schooner was designed by Hayden Brown, then an aerospace engineer, in 1971. It took another decade to build and have it licensed and ready for the water, and the Aldebaran -- the name of the brightest star in the constellation Taurus, or "the follower" in Arabic -- made its first voyage in Alviso in 1981.

The Aldebaran and the Browns have made their home in the East Bay since 1991, and the schooner has taken numerous people on free voyages as the couple's way of giving back to the community.

Passengers have included students in high school sailing clubs and children for the Make a Wish Foundation.

Each year at the Pirate Festival, the Browns and their passengers dress in buccaneer garb and fire a cannon from the ship's deck.

Fern Brown said her husband "just enjoys putting a smile on people's faces."

Now the couple is hoping the community can help them get the Aldebaran back atop the water. Beyond the repairs it might need, moving a 70-foot schooner is a little more complex and costly than calling a tow truck for a stranded car.

Salvage divers will go out Monday to see whether they can free the vessel. Otherwise, the couple will wait until "minus low tide" on July 22, when the schooner will be less submerged.

"We have to get it out," Brown said. "The Coast Guard isn't going to let it stay there. They called us (Thusday) and asked when we were going to get it out of there, and we said we're trying."

It may take a crane mounted on a barge to free the schooner, which will cost thousands of dollars, and once it is in dry dock at KKMI in Richmond, there will be thousands more for repairs. The Browns have set up a fundraising page at www.gofundme.com/3ifhhg.

Without assistance -- everything from funds to salvaging expertise -- the costs could be ruinous to the retired couple.

"With love and luck, we will save this beautiful craft to grace the Bay again," Fern Brown said.