090320 Honda Point Book 1

From top to bottom, four of seven ships that ran aground at Lompoc's Honda Point in 1923. The Woodbury is shown with the Fuller barely visible in the rear, the Young, and the Delphy, which is seen broken in two.

While waiting for her burger at Jalama Beach Grill in Lompoc, Therese Vannier came upon a collection of black and white images and historical news clippings of the Sept. 8, 1923, Honda Point disaster displayed on the restaurant's walls.

The tragic incident, which claimed the lives of 23 sailors, stuck with her.

Twenty years later, Vannier and friend Michael Corbin Ray — both Solvang-based writers — are set to launch their co-authored novel "Dead Reckoning" on Sept. 8, marking the 97th anniversary of the Honda Point disaster that represents the largest peacetime loss of U.S. Navy ships.

090320 Honda Point Book 3

The Nicholas, left, and the S.P. Lee were two of seven ships involved in the 1923 Honda Point disaster in Lompoc.

"Dead Reckoning" is a fictional story based around the tragic sea event, which saw seven destroyers run aground at Honda Point, a few miles from the northern side of the Santa Barbara Channel off Point Arguello. It backtracks history, highlighting both real and fictional officers and civilians prior to and in the aftermath of the disaster.

The story follows the daily lives of a group of low-ranking enlisted sailors on shore leave in San Francisco during the Prohibition-era, and later, aboard the flagship USS Delphy headed south for San Diego, which would eventually meet with disaster alongside six other destroyer ships. 

"She's been kind of obsessed about it," Corbin Ray said, referring to Vannier's unremitting focus over the years. "There are so many books written on [the Honda Point disaster] that focus on the officers, and we wanted to change that."

The authors explained that the characters in the story were designed to have readers feel compassion and empathy for men below the deck who were mostly left out of historical accounts.

Though two fictional characters were named in honor of Vannier's grandmothers, officers named in the story, such as Commodore Edward H. Watson who had command of the USS Delphy, are historically based.

"We wanted to base the story around real people," Vannier said, adding that the book was at first supposed to become a screenplay. 

Piecing together the military history proved to be more detective work than the pair had originally anticipated. 

Jalama Beach Grill owner Don Eittreim aided their initial research, Vannier said, leading them on a mission to pursue limited details on the tragedy.

Honda Disaster Lompoc Record Sep 14 1923 Headline

A headline in the Sept. 14, 1923, edition of the Lompoc Record describes the Honda Point disaster. 

The pair, however, was told by the Armed Forces Court of Marine Inquiry that papers on the incident had been misfiled, quickly snuffing out hopes to uncover the whole story.

"I even found that it was very rare for others in the Navy to know about [the disaster]. When friends and family were asked about it, they looked it up and were shocked," explained Vannier. "It's not the most shining moment for the Navy."

The authors were later introduced to James Carucci, an archaeologist and Lompoc-based cultural resource manager with more than 20 years of local experience, who again energized the authors' investigation.

090320 Honda Point Book2

"Dead Reckoning," a book loosely based on the 1923 Honda Point disaster in Lompoc, is slated to launch on the 97th anniversary of the historical event on Sept. 8.

When they attended an informational tour at the historical Honda Point site led by Carucci, their story began to take shape.

It was on that tour that Vannier and Corbin Ray met a tourist visiting from the U.K. His father, who had survived the wreckage, had been on the Woodbury, one of the seven ships lost in the tragedy. The Woodbury had turned to starboard and struck an offshore rock. 

"It took a lot of research to get all the facts," said Corbin Ray, adding that the contributions of many, including the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, are responsible for the historical authenticity of the book. "We wanted to use the true events as the backbone of the story," he said.

For more information about the authors and the book, visit www.baaapress.com

23 stories explaining the Central Coast's history, landscape, and traditions from Judith Dale

Judith Dale has written several columns highlighting the culture, geography and history of the Central Coast. Get better acquainted with our beautiful slice of California with this collection of her work. 

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We have the perfect setting for fires: thousands of acres of wilderness with rugged terrain and few roads; rainy winter weather that allows grass and brush to grow, followed by months of hot, dry weather; prevailing winds as well as sundowner winds; and people, who are the cause of most fires.

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At one time, Hollister and his partners, the Dibblee Brothers, owned all the land between Refugio Beach and Point Conception. They owned all the land grants around Point Concepcion, the Ortega family’s Refugio Grant, the La Purisima Mission lands and the San Julian Ranch.

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We often overlook and take for granted the importance of the river to our past development and more importantly to our future development and quality of life.

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Judith Dale looks back to 1920, offering a timeline of progress the U.S. has made over the last 100 years. In most areas such as life expectancy, industry, technology, and position in the world, the U.S. has come a long way. However, many of the social/cultural challenges the country faced in the 1920s, are still with us today.

Lisa André covers local news and lifestyles for Santa Ynez Valley News.