#201  Sailboat Race Kills Four!
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#201 Sailboat Race Kills Four!

September 3, 2019

hello everybody in our last episode I
told the story of the morning dew a tragic but very instructive story for
all voters to learn from well I got so many personal emails asked me to please
do another one of these type of instructional videos so enjoy in this instance we had an experienced
captain we had a crew that had sailed together before it in fact had actually
done this exact route before we had good weather conditions good visibility the
winds were good and it was just a simple race from Newport Beach California to
Ensenada Mexico so what happened so what happened well the boat never
made it to Ensenada why because it slammed into North card out
of Island killing all four and then aboard you you


  • Reply kevin whitehurst June 21, 2019 at 4:02 pm

    If you have never sailed at night, you are in for an experience of a lifetime.

  • Reply SV Barry Duckworth June 21, 2019 at 4:05 pm

    With modern chartplotters a common issue is when the chart is zoomed out many dangerous features simply disappear from the screen. Obstructions, rocks, buoys, and even small islands.

    As technologically advanced as these electronic devices are they have some serious issues with how they interact with the charts loaded into them. These electronic charts are simply paper charts (many are decades or even 100+ years old) that have been digitalized, and the process of this digitalization is in many ways flawed.

    A good skipper and helmsperson will zoom in and follow each course line from waypoint to waypoint and review the course for any obstructions or dangers that may not show up when the plotter is zoomed-out. If a course is altered along the way due to tacking, missing a mark, or a change in winds along the way any new course laid into the plotter will need to be reviewed closely before blindly following the line to the next waypoint or destination.

  • Reply Capt Chef Mark SV Alcina June 21, 2019 at 4:16 pm

    Bad navigation.

  • Reply jan svingen June 21, 2019 at 4:18 pm

    The thumbs up is for u telling us this.

  • Reply Seldom Scene June 21, 2019 at 4:22 pm

    I remember this incident. What I could not understand was the blunt force injuries. How fast could they have been going? The boat broke up. That takes a lot of force. Did the bashing against rocks do that ? As in the previous case, this was death my complacency…no PFDs, likely nobody at the helm, not latched on…sail a long time without incident and you get too comfortable.

  • Reply Dan Best June 21, 2019 at 4:42 pm

    My best guess it that the watch stander (probably the one that had the harness on) fell asleep (according to the report, it was about 1:30am that the boat hit the island). Somebody, either the skipper or the watch stander had set the autopilot on a course that intersected the island instead of one that passed the island by at a safe distance. There was a chart plotter onboard so had he been alert and keeping track of where he was by glancing at it periodically, the accident would have been avoided.
    This is precisely why whenever possible, we don't set courses that intersect land. We also keep our primary chart plotter on 24/7 whenever we are underway and when we do our 10 minute horizon checks, it includes looking at the chart plotter. We check the plotter even if we are no where near land as it is also our AIS display (this shows us the position, course, speed and how close they will come to us of any other boats in the area that are AIS equipped).
    This is also why I am far less stressed when well offshore than when coastal cruising. When you're hundreds of miles from the nearest bit of land, hitting something while inattentive is very unlikely.

  • Reply sailingmylifeaway June 21, 2019 at 5:14 pm

    Little known fact…Coronado Island has a magnetic anomaly on the NORTH side of the island known to the local Mexican fisherman. It has been compared to the Bermuda Triangle. Could the navigation systems been affected? North side of Coronado also has many UFO sightings above and below the water.
    Nice video Vin. The ocean garners the highest respect. Never under any circumstances ever compromise on safety.

  • Reply Frank Rice June 21, 2019 at 5:18 pm

    A failed watch and the race was 2 long…to sail you must NEVER put your hard down see so min. Go below and sleep..sometimes the bigest failed is the lack of communication

  • Reply Frank Rice June 21, 2019 at 5:21 pm

    And another thing we must never let the sea but fear in the heart to the point of missing out on the peace it can provide….communication must be no one the blame is with in the crew it SELF ego usly is the one to blame

  • Reply Adam S June 21, 2019 at 5:42 pm

    the sea is unforgiving to any mistakes

  • Reply Flying Gybe June 21, 2019 at 6:40 pm

    This was almost certainly a case of plotting a course using an electronic charting system that lacked sufficient detail at some zoom levels, and then allowing the autopilot to maintain a course heading that interesected with a poorly lighted island that did not appear on the electronic chart plotter at certain zoom levels. This is a very common problem that's not well understood by many users of electronic charting systems. It can also be a problem using paper charts if only using large area charts without sufficient local detail, then relying on an autopilot to transit an area when visibility is less than optimum. Electronic charts and autopilots are extremely useful tools. But the limitations and risks are not always well understood, and can and occasionally do result in terrible mishaps.

  • Reply h2odragon1 June 21, 2019 at 8:10 pm

    Sounds like someone at the Helm fell asleep, or had a medical event that incapacitated him!

  • Reply Robert Frick June 21, 2019 at 8:53 pm

    To me it’s sounds like possibly carbon monoxide poisoning with three men sleeping in the cabin and one at watch on the helm despite the boat being on autopilot. The victim with the harness was possibly on watch at the helm and he himself had fallen asleep while the boat was motoring in the night light breeze.

  • Reply Trawler Travels June 21, 2019 at 9:14 pm

    I was going to say the autopilot..NEVER, NEVER set a hard object..i.e. ATON of any kind, land mass, etc. as a waypoint. Also after setting a wsypoint or just a trackline, ZOOM IN along the entire route. Some details do not show up on small scale charts (zoomed out).
    Boat safe and wear your life jacket

  • Reply Fisher Isle June 21, 2019 at 10:03 pm

    The only plausable explanation I can think of is their navigation was off. Presumably they relied on some type of digital satellite system and GPS device. Though I've never heard of one being off by that much – to send the boat straight into an island – what else could explain their being apparently totally unprepared or warned.

    I always use two separate systems. I like Navionics but must have another software and more than one GPS. And, paper charts as well. But, at night in the open ocean charts aren't much use.

  • Reply Michael Miley June 21, 2019 at 11:32 pm

    Y'all should do the race, not like to win, but to complete the course.

  • Reply rick flippin June 21, 2019 at 11:48 pm

    Very interesting thanks

  • Reply Philip Freeman June 22, 2019 at 1:43 am

    Racing is too much on the edge for me . Pilot ERROR.

  • Reply Robert Adams Metal Detecting June 22, 2019 at 3:03 am

    There was an Ocean Race wreck where they did basically the same thing. They were not zoomed in on the nav screen enough to see the little island I believe.

  • Reply MOAV Billy June 22, 2019 at 3:05 am

    The crew member wearing the safety harness was on helm watch and fell asleep. The other crew members were asleep below deck.

  • Reply Tom's Corner June 22, 2019 at 3:48 am

    Were they sailing or motoring at night? No moon? They didn't see the island.

  • Reply blyslv June 22, 2019 at 4:38 am

    First my condolences to all the loved ones of the people hurt by these deaths.

    Your introductory video to this incident makes me wonder if there was a little overconfidence involved. I am hesitant to speculate beyond that initial conclusion.

    These analyses I are useful. There is a publication, Accidents in North American mountaineering. They look at every accident that happened over the past year and analyze it. This provides very useful guidance for how to go about doing these things we love to do.

  • Reply keeldragger June 22, 2019 at 4:46 am

    Pretty clear they did not maintain a vigilant watch. The Coronados are super easy to avoid if you are not asleep at the wheel. With 4 people on board and late in the evening, I suspect 3 were down and the person watch did not pay attention or fell asleep.

  • Reply BenjaminFranklin99 June 22, 2019 at 8:02 am

    The misuse of GPS waypoints has killed a lot of sailors and wrecked a lot of boats. I sailed across the Pacific Ocean before GPS had been invented without harm – using a compass and a sextant, with paper charts. We visited scores of islands that were rock and reef bound, without suffering any harm. We were very, very cautious and wary.

  • Reply Scott Charlton June 22, 2019 at 4:49 pm

    We may never know for sure, but likely whoever was on watch wasn’t watching. Add to that sailing at night without life preserver. And most likely the GPS plotter wasn’t tuned to course.

  • Reply Kens Crack Of Doom June 22, 2019 at 5:54 pm

    Perhaps watch fell asleep and boat changed course. Pretty big thing to hit and well lit too. Very sad.

  • Reply froggyziffle June 22, 2019 at 9:38 pm

    I can't improve on the expert's opinion. Reminds me of KAL flight 007. It's so easy to have too much faith in technology and let George drive. Please, double-check everything and have a backup.

  • Reply Rick Ruehl June 23, 2019 at 2:58 am

    They had radar? I assume they were not paying attention. The real sailors, Delos, Rick Moore, La Veagbonde use radar and somebody always on watch. Guess these guys were like that tesla driver who turns on autopilot 8 seconds before crashing under a truck that was pulling out onto road. Since it was not stormy, a good watchman would have seen the shadow of the island with that big of terrain. GPS is nice but radar and physically watching is needed also.

  • Reply Raul Thepig June 23, 2019 at 3:21 am

    First my belated condolences to the families of Aegean's skipper and crew.

    Two of these gentlemen were coworkers of mine and at the time of this accident I was on the otherside of the island crewing on a friend's boat. I remember the Federales coming over to our boat at about 2:00 AM to see if we were the Aegean. And so I was very interested in what and why.

    I have skippered my own boat in this race several times before and so I'm very familiar with the course and sailing conditions. The North Coronado island is smack dab in the way when setting a direct route from offshore of San Diego to Ensenada. What was not mentioned in this video was the boat was equipped with a SPOT. Aegean had this device set to send out a signal every 10 minutes. I remember going to the SPOT website and viewing Aegean's entire course.

    As usual right off the coast of San Diego the wind dies at 11:00 PM. From their SPOT You could tell they were doing 360s until they started their engine. Then they had set a course directly for Ensenada doing exactly 6 knots until they struck the island. Now I've been on the side of the island they were on and on a dark night you cannot see the island. I was shocked when on my first N2E race, I was looking over the port side watching another boat's navigation lights when suddenly they disappeared. That is when I realized an island had just came between us.

    I surmised from the SPOT data no one zoomed in and checked the rhumbline for obstacles and no one set the chart plotter to a large scale while watching it or ignored the chartplotter altogether. Obviously no one saw the island. But, even if someone was looking forward they still might not of seen the island until it was too late. After an exhaustive investigation the USCG came to the same conclusion.

    I use this incident to impress upon my crew the importance of zooming in, checking for obstacles when setting the rhumbline and keeping a vigilant watch thereafter. Also, like someone else commented here don't set land or any other obstacle as a waypoint. I did that once, not thinking my crew was going to take the boat right up to the light house. Fortunately I woke up in time to stop them. I'll never set a waypoint at an obstacle again.

  • Reply Chas Ket June 23, 2019 at 3:59 am

    This whole story is an emotional tragic tale of sailing this race we understand and know that there were no drugs or alcohol involved we understand that only one of the decedent's actually had a harness on without a tether.

    When you run this race, you have two choices either you stay within the islands in the mainland or you go outside the islands to the windward side. To go between the mainland and the islands is typically a big mistake because those islands will completely disrupt the typical on shore slow and train this time of year is typically blowing in a North 2 South pattern.

    Considering the coroner's report of the cause of death being blunt force trauma can only lead to one conclusion. The individual wearing the harness was at the helm. The other three were below deck resting further shifts and most likely prepping dinner or snacks. Prior to their watch rotation. The crew below deck never heard or saw anything coming up Prince such as and then pending collision with that Rocky Shore. As the boat collided a completely collapsed and on everybody because the current and surf would have been searching the boat up on top of the rocky end of that tip of the island. the man at the home is the man that was wearing the harness. He may have been familiar with this course and may have run this race many many times.

    But one thing we know for sure is this boat was off it's course, why we will never know most likely due to a lack of experience sailing in or around these two rugged Rocky Islands. They are a place the to not mix or play well with boats.

    This boat hit the rocks at a tremendous speed it would not have been any time to respond within the last few seconds of this unfortunate encounter with these unforgiving islands.

    I have participated in this race over many many years, and this particular incident is the most tragic any event in the history of this Newport to Ensenada race. this incident Still Remains in the hearts and Minds every sailor the passes Beyond the Coronado Islands.

    And every sailor that participates in this race has the hearts and minds of the sailors they were lost on this day. no one goes past these islands without remembering these for sailors, wondering how. is no longer a question of how when why but is now a point of memoreze but we all offer our thoughts and prayers to the sailors that lost their lives at this tragic site, but our thoughts are always with families who lost much more then any of us can imagine.

    Joseph Lester Stewart, Kevin Rudolph, William Reed Johnson jr., Theo Mavromatis, all unfortunately prematurely died, but they were doing something that they love to do….

    Other criticism regarding findings that there was no other vessel involved has upset understandably the surviving family members. it is just not possible for any large commercial shipping vessel to have been in the vicinity of those islands at any time.

    This was purely a navigational error and as a consequence the sailors ran into solid Hard Rock Shores instantaneously destroying there vessel this is why they suffered such blunt force trauma, truly a horrific navigational error prayed

    in the world of Aviation, there is no such is one thing that can cause an catastrophic accident. typically there are three things that can contribute to a catastrophic incidents such
    #1 is this the environment, the weather, the Seas, and the current
    #2 failure of instrumentation, navigation AIDS, Communications
    #3 inexperienced piloting, fatigue, lack of understanding of situational awareness.

    these are just three typical examples of an aircraft accident There is never just one event that causes something catastrophic to happen. In this case study we will never fully understand exactly what happened but we understand the likely conclusion and that is this vessel had a depth sounder this vessel was well equipped with charts an electronic charts this sailboat was equipped with everything necessary to navigate this race.

    barring having the opportunity to fully examine the electronics whether or not in operating conditions, ultimately This falls on The the person on Watch. And most likely someone who is not fully familiar with the area being sailed in and this is truly a sad and unfortunate incidence and my heart goes out to the family and friends and the loved ones that lost their they're crew…… let us all hope and pray that such an event never happens again……

  • Reply Tony hood June 23, 2019 at 6:59 am


  • Reply Symphony Farm June 23, 2019 at 10:15 am

    Trying to be light and snarky…maybe not the appropriate place… BUT! The did the Mexican government de-fund light house operations and construction? …..A cool book to check out all is "Salt" published by the people who did Foxfire. There are tales of a lighthouse keeper from rocky coast of Maine, and wreck prevention by human intervention.

  • Reply Symphony Farm June 23, 2019 at 10:19 am

    PS – " be afraid of the land. "

  • Reply warp21drive June 23, 2019 at 11:59 am

    Apparently a bad waypoint was used that took them over an island . Why? What sort of chart were they using? You need to use RAS charts as well as chart plotters. With a regular plotter as you zoom out items disappear. With. RAS CHART they are always there just like a real paper chart.
    Was this the real problem,? apart from all the proper watch an navy checking issues.
    Cheers Warren

  • Reply j lee June 23, 2019 at 12:22 pm

    Condolence's to the lost and their family.  A sleepy helmsman and others were asleep.

  • Reply O R Y X June 23, 2019 at 1:55 pm

    I just commented on a post by a gentleman below and have got to say, this is really very odd.
    I've seen the remains of two yachts of this approximate size recovered from the Galveston jetty. Both striking the jetty under full sail. While the jetty rock isn't nearly as rough as the images shown, it is surf pounded and rough enough.
    Of the injuries to the 13 sailor total, bruises and cuts, with one broken wrist, no one died of blunt force trauma. That, to me, would indicate the sailors here died instantly.
    But more disturbing and mysterious is the state of the boat upon recovery. It's completely destroyed, and violently so.
    While the damage to the two yachts on the jetty was significant, one with bow crushed, they were simply holed at point contacts to the rock. Fiberglass is pretty damned tough. It would take hours if not days to surf pound a sailboat like that into those small pieces.
    Considering the boat's length, it's hull speed was probably around 7 to 8 knots. There is no way in hell that's fast enough for that kind of damage and certainly not enough speed to kill three men of blunt force trauma.
    I'm not saying it was but that boat looks like it was run over by a super tanker. Sailors who die instantly like that usually are run over or the boat has exploded for some reason. They don't die instantly of blunt force trauma lying in a pilot berth twenty feet from the bow going 8 knots. The guy they found drowned most likely jumped and later drowned.
    No, there is more to this. While SPOT is pretty damned accurate, they aren't perfect. And, yes, they obviously were heading for a grounding but… I find it extremely suspect, given the state of that boat and instant death of three of those sailors that this was a grounding because of a navigational error, and should probably be investigated further.
    But, hey, that's just me, and as a former racer, (I just cruise now), who knew crashing a boat going 8 knots would look like you'd hit the wall at Indy going 200 mph?

  • Reply zzzx xzzz June 23, 2019 at 7:56 pm

    Chart plotter didn't show the island when plotting way points ? The assumption that the skipper plotted a waypoint through the island doesn't make sense ! More than one skipper on board ? Friends tend to all want to be the skipper simultaneously ! Overriding the previous waypoint plotted as being a faster way to the finish by an inexperienced chart reader ? We may never know that pirates boarded , robbed them , beat them to death except one so badly injured was left for dead , then set the boat on a collision course into the island ! Traveling on water is risky ! God bless all who sail on water !

  • Reply zzzx xzzz June 23, 2019 at 8:03 pm

    Volvo around the world race had a professional experienced crew that hit an island in the Indian ocean off the cost of Africa , at night ! No one died but who would have thought that could happen ! ?

  • Reply Phil P June 24, 2019 at 2:22 am

    Sailing at night is hazardous regardless of preparation. The men were caught unaware of the impending danger. The yacht possibly foundered quickly and the men were probably down below and thus not wearing life preservers. The might have been able to egress in a timely manner but found themselves on a difficult, rocky lee shore and the waves pounded them onto the rocks. They must have been terrified, struggled mightily, but succumbed. It is a sad loss of life irrespective of cause or fault. At least they were experiencing life and did get taken by health problems.

  • Reply Paul Kube June 24, 2019 at 1:04 pm

    Complacency! A sad event that should emphasize safety, procedure and staying sharp to all sailors all the time.

  • Reply Nigel Donald June 24, 2019 at 3:06 pm

    Im guessing complacency GPS track over an island, 3 crew below and one at the helm falls asleep

  • Reply David E Smith June 25, 2019 at 11:11 am

    Too much dependence on electronics and not enough dead reckoning

  • Reply Jeff Halpern June 25, 2019 at 8:11 pm

    First of all, its important to remember that there are real people and real families and real friends whose lives have been tragically impacted by these events. More than anything else I want to send my condolences to any real of families and friends of these four men.

    Beyond that, I am always amazed that people are so quick to draw conclusions about what happened in any tragedy and quickly make assumptions about how they might have done it differently. Having reviewed the investigation report, https://www.ussailing.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Ensenada-Report-FINAL.pdf, I would suggest that there is insufficient information to really determine what happened in this case. It is way too easy for armchair sailors to speculate on what happened, but it is only speculation. While its easy to conjecture that there were specific mistakes made that resulted in this unfortunate event, none of us know for certain what really happened, and if we want to speculate wildly there are all kinds of alternative conjectures that could be made.

    For example, Joe Stewart, the crew person who was thought to be on deck at the time of the grounding, " died of drowning due to traumatic injuries." While these injuries could have occurred during the collision or while in the water after the accident, it is also possible that some form of a disabling injury occurred prior to the accident that prevented a proper watch from occurring.

    A number of people commented that they assumed that the course through Catalina Island was intentional and due to neglect. But the report says,
    “From the position where Aegean began motoring, the Coronado Islands were an obstruction on the shortest course to the finish. Interviews suggest that Aegean’s skipper would create a waypoint north of North Coronado Island so that he could decide on which side of the islands to pass.

    “Had Aegean continued on the course shown by the SPOT Connect track, she would have passed offshore of Point Salsipuedes. (This is the largest point of land North of Bahia De Todos Santos.) This would be a logical position to turn to enter the bay to get to Ensenada. Interview subjects indicated that past practices would not have been to set a waypoint so far from the boat’s position. “

    That suggests that there was an offset waypoint and a decision point waypoint as well. Its is possible, if not probable that the autopilot was not linked to the autopilot. (Racers rarely do) This would have required that the person on watch change the course on the autopilot at that waypoint. Its possible that the watch missed this change in course because the waypoint alarm was not set or it was set but was not loud enough to be heard over the engine noise. But its equally possible that the watch changed the autopilot course towards the new offset way point, but failed to notice that there was current or leeway taking the boat towards the island.

    While the Report concludes: "Based on all factors, the panel concludes that the skipper set a waypoint that took Aegean on a path that intersected North Coronado Island, that Aegean was motoring under autopilot as she approached the island, and there is no evidence of any intervention to prevent Aegean’s running into the island." It does not and there is not enough information available to shed light on why that happened. Frankly there are dozens of reason that this disaster could have happened and it would be possible to conjecture endless possibilities as to why these lives were lost, and none may be correct.

    But all that said, rather than speculating on what happened in this case, what is more useful is to talk about safety procedures that might have avoided this. The report makes a set of blanket recommendations:
    "1. Always maintain a lookout, with a watch of at least two people, using audible waypoint and radar alarms.

    2. Racers need to be made aware of the light obscuration zones in the Coronado Islands.

    3. Each watch must understand the operation of the boat's navigation systems.

    4. The use of autopilots while motoring should be reviewed by race organizers.

    5. To improve communication, racers should monitor VHF 16 and race organizers should provide a 24 ihour emergency contact.

    6. US Sailing should create a guide to emergency signaling devices.

    7. US Sailing should create a crisis management template for race organizers.

    These are all well and good for fully crewed race boats, and boats following a prescribed race (or cruise) route, but oddly they do not deal with typical cruisers. For example take the first recommendation: How do you do that when there is only a cruising couple on board, or if the boat is racing single or double-handed as is increasingly becoming a trend?

    More realistically, for most folks there needs to be safe guards that make sure that the crew is alert and knows what it needs to do. The crew on deck needs to be briefed as to what to watch for and where. There should be a checklist since its easy to forget something important when you are tired. There needs to be a way to assure that the deck crew is awake both at a close enough interval to avoid disaster, but also at critical times such as the time that Aegean hit the probable waypoint that the boat needed to alter course to miss Catalina. A lot of single-handers use devices like Screaming Meanie that are super loud alarms. They set them to short intervals (15 minutes) and will have some procedure to make sure that they are actually awake such as checking off a row of boxes with time on a log after scanning instruments, GPS, Autopilot, and horizon. Some use devices that you need to punch in a code to shut them off. Single-handers are known to literally will bring a box of them aboard since they somehow seem to get thrown over the side when shutting one off fails.

    The second point is also important for a race or cruise committee. The report indicates that lights on Catalina or nav lights surrounding the island would not have been visible from the deck of Aegean. It would be easy to include that in the SI's for a race or cruise, but as cruisers, this type of information would not be readily available.

    The third point probably is the most critical for cruisers and short-handed racers. All to often I have run into crews where one person is the 'navigator' and no one else on board knows much more than how to follow a course on the GPS, read the radar and the basic output from the instruments. As much as possible everyone on board a short-handed cruising boats needs to be able to do everything anyone else can do. For example, it does no good to have a medical officer on board when the medical expert is the one who is injured to the point of being unconscious. Same with operating the electronics. for example I was on a race boat with an experienced crew doing drills, and out of the blue the skipper called man overboard and ducked into the cabin. No one else on board knew how to hit the MOB function on the unit and so time and concentration was lost trying to find the MOB function and making it work.

    The rest of the recommended items have little to do with cruisers or short-handed crews.

    You asked for an opinion, those are some of mine……


  • Reply TheRhythmDoctor June 27, 2019 at 1:03 am

    I’m surprised by the experts’ conclusions. Aren’t motoring and autopilot use both banned by most racing rules?

  • Reply johnny llooddte June 29, 2019 at 9:32 am

    DONT SAIL AT NIGHT.. dont sail FAST at night.. did i mention..dont sail at night…
    whats wrong with yall commenters..its as simple as following off a log.. it was tuned to perfect course.. the boat went to the waypoint and stopped.. the guy who set the waypoint forgot to mention the autopilot was set to hit a BIG ROCK at night ,,to the next pilot

  • Reply Clinton Shaw July 21, 2019 at 3:01 pm

    I still have a hard time for some reason understanding this. They were going 6 knots hit an island "rocks" and suffered blunt force trauma and sadly all 4 perished. I'm probably sounding naïve but just trying to wrap my head around it. I have a power boat that does 45 mph that I could clearly understand but a Hunter ??

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