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ENSENADA RACE: Mysterious Destruction of Aegean

Aegean SPOT track

This is pretty weird. I previously mentioned the tragic loss of Aegean in the Newport Ensenada Race off southern California last weekend, and since then have been following developments with interest. The original presumption was that the boat, a 37-foot Hunter, had been run down by a ship, and this seemed to have been confirmed by at least one eyewitness on another boat. But Aegean's SPOT track also shows the boat running directly into the north end of North Coronado Island at a speed of about 7 knots.

The debris from the wreck reportedly looks as though it has "been through a blender," with most bits about 6 inches long. To me this doesn't seem very consistent with either explanation, and some have speculated there might have been a propane explosion as the boat hit the rocks.

Meanwhile, the bodies of three of the four crew have been recovered and causes of death have been determined--two victims died of blunt force trauma, the other drowned. Which could be consistent with either explanation.

Sailors familiar with North Coronado Island claim it is conceivable that a yacht hitting the rocks there would be quickly ground to bits in the swell. Ultimately, this scenario can be easily confirmed by sending a diver to look for the keel, and at this point, given the SPOT track, it seems the likeliest explanation.

Aegean at Newport Ensenada start

Aegean at the start of the race (Photo by Don Bartletti)

North Coronado Island

Last known whereabouts??? (Photo from Scuttlebutt forum)

The question then becomes: how exactly did four crew led by an experienced skipper on a yacht participating in a race with more than 200 other boats get so out of touch with reality that they ran straight into an island?

Also: what the heck was that eyewitness smoking?

Some commentators have remarked that this accident has nothing in common with the recent Low Speed Chase disaster in the Farallones Race off San Francisco. But it seems there may in fact be one huge common denominator: both boats ended up on the rocks.

I was discussing this with a friend yesterday, and he noted something us East Coast sailors tend to forget, which is that the West Coast is nothing but thousands of miles of lee shore. He told me of sailing with friends out there once and being amazed at how close they were willing to sail to large breaking waves.

He thought they were crazy. They thought it was fun. Which it probably is, once you get used to it. But there's no changing the fact that big waves, pointy rocks, and sailboats just don't get along too well together.

(For a good discussion of the Aegean tragedy, I recommend the Scuttlebutt forum and also Panbo.)

UPDATE: Checking Sailing Anarchy this morning, I see they have a report from "Anarchist Russell," who claims he has just visited North Coronado Island with a SAR diver looking for debris at what seems to be the crash site. Diving in 40 to 60 feet of water, in good visibility, the diver found nothing.

Like I said, this is weird.

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