"The owner is extremely hard to get hold of," said Lt. Mark Ledbetter, the investigating officer. "We have to talk to him and other witnesses to get some idea of exactly what happened, because the initial information that we have is really very sketchy."
The 121-foot Lady Anna, named for Hovnanian's wife, was among the world's largest sport-fishing vessels, with a double aluminum hull and 24-karat-gold- plated hinges.
Hovnanian, 61, was one of the six men on board when it sank. None was injured, although the men floated on a rubber raft for nearly five hours before a Coast Guard plane saw their flashing light and two helicopters hoisted them to safety.
"When we got there, we hoisted the basket down and . . . two guys were able to get on themselves," said Petty Officer Third Class George Marinkov, who was in the second helicopter to arrive on the scene. "Then I was sent in the water because . . . two guys weren't real good swimmers."
Theophanis, whose firm is interested in retrieving some of the fishing boat's fancy appointments, said the speed with which it sank could be attributed to the hull's coming apart or to the cockpit's flooding.
The boat could have hit something, he said, or else "an open door in the cockpit could have filled the cockpit with water, killed the engines and then a wave could have come over the stern and swamped her."
Meanwhile, the builder of the boat said yesterday that the Lady Anna "had not been sea-trialed or completed" when it was taken from his boatyard in July 1991. "It was completed, I heard, about two months ago down here," said Christopher W. Denison, president of Denison Marine Inc. of Dania, Fla., ''but I haven't had any contact directly with Mr. Hovnanian since the vessel was removed from the yard."
The two were in dispute about whether money was still owed on the boat. Denison said Hovnanian had paid him about $4 million by the time the boat was removed.
He said the boat was in drydock when Hovnanian relaunched it, and that Hovnanian had title to the boat at the time.
The Coast Guard said yesterday that it found a diesel sheen, about 100 by 400 yards, which is considered small.
The Lady Anna's insurer was not immediately identified.
Coast Guard officials said they had no plans to try raising the yacht.
Theophanis, the salvager, said the Coast Guard rarely became involved in salvaging unless a boat presented a hazard to the environment or to navigation. The Lady Anna went down in 428 feet of water.
"In that depth of water, it's more search and recovery," he said. "You have to go out there probably with side-scan sonar and search for it."
He said that insurance companies often investigated a sinking with a remote-operated vehicle tethered to the surface and controlled by a pilot on a support vessel.
"Because it's so deep, you cannot really send a conventional diver down there," he said. "The whole thing is probably buckled up and down each side. There probably is quite a bit of structural damage. The boat would implode, as opposed to explode. It's catastrophic damage."
According to an article in the September issue of Showboats International, a yachting magazine, it took $2 million to finish the Lady Anna after it left Denison's property. Denison said yesterday that the figure was "grossly exaggerated."
Hovnanian could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The other passengers on the boat were identified by the Coast Guard as Capt. Frank Lumbrecht, 40, of Boynton Beach, Fla.; crew members Michael Nelson, 42, of Palm Beach, Fla.; Ken Scherf, 39, of Sydney, Australia, and Michael Christensen, 31, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Jack Meyer, 64, of Brick, N.J., a longtime friend of Hovnanian's.
Meyer, a retired plumbing supply store owner, said in an interview Friday that he and the others had just gone to bed when they were alerted to the crisis.
"The captain came into my stateroom and said, 'Get up, we have a problem,' " Meyer said. "And when I got out of my room and saw all the water in the cockpit, I realized that we really did have a problem."
Meyer said the captain put the raft into the water and began handing out life preservers, then helped the men get into the raft before climbing in
himself. Once they were on the raft, he said, the men remained calm and simply waited to be rescued.
"The whole thing was quite an experience," he said, laughing. "It was such a shock because it was such a big boat, and you just don't think about things like this happening.
"I guess this is the type of thing I'll remember the rest of my life."