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Deadly Sailboat Accidents A ‘Wake-Up Call’

This Friday, April 27, 2012, photo shows the Aegean with crew members at the start of a 125-mile Newport Beach, Calif. to Ensenada, Mexico yacht race. The 37-foot Aegean, carrying a crew of four, was reported missing Saturday, the U.S. Coast Guard said. The yacht appeared to have collided at night with a much larger vessel, leaving three crew members dead and one missing. (AP /newportbeach.patch.com, Susan Hoffman)

Two deadly sailing accidents off the California coast have many in the sailing community asking what went wrong.

Both incidents occurred during yacht races, and experts say these are the most deadly accidents in more than 30 years.

“[For] race organizers and yacht clubs and race committees around the country it’s a wake-up call,” Gary Jobson, president of the U.S. Sailing Association told Here & Now‘s Robin Young.

The first incident was on Saturday April 14th, during the Full Crew Farallones Race when five sailors were killed after their 38-foot sailboat “Low Speed Chase” was hit by powerful waves and tossed onto a rocky island off of San Francisco.

It prompted the Coast Guard to suspend yacht races in the San Francisco Bay area.

Survivor: Like Being In A ‘Washing Machine Filled With Boulders’

Bryan Chong, one of three sailors on “Low Speed Chase” to survive the accident told the San Francisco Chronicle  what happened when his boat was flipped by a wave and thrown against the rocks of South Farallon Island. He spent a terrifying 15 minutes in the water that he said felt like being in a “washing machine filled with boulders.”

Two weeks later, the sailing community was stunned again when the bodies of three sailors were recovered from the wreckage of the 37-foot sailboat “Aegean” off the Mexican border, after the Newport to Ensenada race went horribly wrong.

“It’s very sad that we’ve had these incidents … and it’s perplexing, horrifying, confusing why they happen.”
– Gary Jobson, U.S. Sailing Association president

A fourth sailor remains missing and is presumed dead. A man who saw the wreckage said it looked like the boat had gone through a blender, leading some to think it was hit by a ship, though Jobson discounts that theory.

A Dark Time For Sailing

Such accidents are rare. For both the Newport to Ensenada race, which has been held for 65 years, and for the Full Crew Farallones Race, 100 years and running, these are the first-ever fatalities.

Jobson says that his organization, the U.S. Sailing Association, is trying to figure out what happened.

“Our job [is] appointing independent review panels to a. figure out what exactly happened b. how do our regulations and rules match up and then c. to put down on paper what our recommendations are to try to minimize losses like this.” he said.

“It’s very sad that we’ve had these incidents and you have great compassion for the families and it’s perplexing, horrifying, confusing why they happen.”

Do you sail? Do you think there’s something wrong with the sport? Tell us what you think in the comments section


  • Gary Jobson, president of the U.S. Sailing Association

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Turf

    As a frequent sailor I believe that the sport in general is safe and well organized. These tragic accidents are stern reminders to always follow the safest practices.

  • Kirsten Stahl from San Diego

    The accident with the Aegean, along with the Farralon Islands are two very tragic events.  As an avid racer, my heart sank at news of both incidents.  But there is not an issue with sailing or racing.  It is one of the most rewarding pastimes one could get involved with.  Everyone who spends time on the water knows that the sea is a powerful thing and deserves much respect.  Never take your safety or the safety of those traveling with you for granted.  Wear your PFD’s (personal flotation devices), follow all of the normal safety protocalls, and make sure everyone on-board is knowledgeable about safety issues and knows what they are doing.  The beauty of sailing and racing competitively is that you are constantly learning.  Learn from people with more experience than you, and pass on that knowledge to others.  Always have two people on-deck (on watch) with a clear view of what’s ahead, to the sides or behind the boat.   My heart goes out to the families of these sailors.

  • Victoria from San Francisco

    As an avid sailor and sail boat racer, who also knew many of the crew members on the Low Speed Chase, this issue hits close to home. Sailing, like any other sport or activity has inherent risks. When people die in car or skiing accident, do people question that there is something wrong with the activity? These two accidents are grim reminders of those risks and the importance of safety and preparedness. That being said, accidents like this are rare, and in general sailing is a wonderful way to spend time with friends, in competition or for leisure, enjoying nature and the outdoors. Those that were lost died living life to the fullest and doing something they had a deep passion for, and while those last moments must have been harrowing, many would argue that there is no better way to leave this world…. 

  • outbound

    One first has to define
    what we mean when we talk about the sport of sailing. Sailing in the form of a
    sport is categorized so widely that we are actually talking about apples and
    oranges. Children start sailing and racing small boats when they are as young
    as five years. The degree of risk under normal supervision is quite small. From
    five years on through grade school, high school and college these same kids
    often progress up the ladder to race and sail ever more larger and
    sophisticated boats. The racing community constantly stresses good judgment and
    above all, safety.


    At the extreme end of the
    sport of sailing we have Ocean Sailing. We have single-handed and team, around
    the world races. These races have been and will continue to be conducted. The
    boat designs have been pushed to the current limits of the latest engineering
    and materials.  The people who sail and
    race these boats are probably some of the most accomplished and sophisticated
    sailors in the world. But just like Mt Everest, many have perished.


    So what happened in
    Ensenada?  I would call the race, a
    cruising race. You are basically running the coastline from Newport to
    Ensenada.  The problem here is that you
    have many, I believe mostly men playing in a game that is open to anyone who
    has a boat and has a little experience. Today you can sail a boat just about
    anywhere using an I-phone as your main navigating tool. Sailboats are being
    popped out of molds like Clorox bottles and fantasies of owning a sail boat (no
    fuel required) are easily fulfilled by the most inexperienced who to the rest
    of the world see their sailing friends as expert sailors. It is very easy to
    get in trouble. We may never know what happened with the Agean. I suspect that
    she was under power and under autopilot and off course at the time of impact.
    The report is that a piece of the transom was found floating. I would guess
    that the hull was what we call a cored hull vs. solid glass.  I would also guess that the boat, under autopilot
    ran into a rock while steaming between 6-7 knots. A sailboat hull is under
    tremendous tension from the rigging that supports the mast. If the keel were
    suddenly pushed up into the boat by its impact with a rock, the tension from
    the rigging could cause the boat to explode like a slingshot and the sinking
    would only take a few seconds. All we can do is try and learn something from
    these kinds of tragedies but we will never eliminate them. Over all, sailing as
    a five years old child, racing at eighty or cruising as a family is a most
    wonderful adventure that few are lucky enough to experience.

  • Wahoojim03

    Having sailed over 35 years both of these accidents really hit hard to the sailing community.  More so because with today’s media everything is put in a spotlight.  Sailing like so many other things in life has it’s risks, but it also has it’s rewards.  I for one will continue sailing, racing in the Newport to Ensenada races and many other races and cruises.  It’s what I love to do.  One think that many of us who do sail, will take away from these accidents is a greater respect for safety and the water we sail on.  I have never been so at peace as I have been while sailing a boat and I have never been so scared as I have been then while sailing a boat.  My heart aches for those sailors lost at sea and their families.  May we all have a greater respect not just for the ocean, but nature as a whole.

  • Bijom

    Sailboat racing? It’s an oxymoron.

    • Gus

       Why not try it?

  • Ameltzer

    Has anyone considered that climate change could be contributing to these fatalities?  We are seeing much stronger and more frequent storms and other extreme weather.

    • Downspeed Tack

      Climate change had no role in these events. There was almost no wind on the night of Aegean’s accident, which was why she was using her engine. The Low Speed Chase accident took place on a very windy day (average for the area), but hardly a storm.

      There has been a great deal of speculation about the causes; just check the various sailing websites and their forums. As is the case with airplane crashes, in-depth investigation is needed to establish the exact sequence of events and underlying causes, so that other sailors can learn from these tragedies. However, there’s no reason to look at climate change.

  • Entertainmac

    I hope that here and now will follow up on these stories. It’s also worth pointing out that every day there are thousands of sailors participating in racing, both offshore and round the cans racing and incidents like these are the exception and not the rule.

  • Carobinson

    We are sailors and racers and are listening to this program while driving in our vehicle. This is the most dangerous thing we will participate in this year. Monica and Larry

  • Tim

    I have raced sailboats all over the world, including in the deepest reaches of the Southern Ocean.  We sail and race offshore for many different reasons – the grace and beauty of our boats as they carve through the sea, the tactical and strategic challenges that these races present, and for the unquestioned frission of the danger of the sea.  Only in the rarest of cases does one of us not return.  Sailors and race organizers are far more focused on safety these days, and it is no longer bad form to be racing while wearing safety gear.  Like motorcylists, pilots and climbers, danger is part of our sport.  We will honor those who have lost their lives and then do what I am certain that they would expect us to do…cast off the bowlines and return to the sea.

  • Stewart

    Sailing in the shipping lanes of the Western English Channel, nighttime watches are always the most dangerous. One club boat was drawn around the stern of a P&O Liner, and another was run down by a French fishing boat and sunk within 30 seconds with the loss of all below decks.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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