Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sailing community again mourns loss in race

2013-03-11 19:47:25
As details emerge on a sailboat racing accident off California's coast, sailors are mourning the loss of crewman Craig Thomas Williams.
Williams, 36, a San Diego resident and crewmember aboard the 32-foot sailboat Uncontrollable Urge, died in the waters off San Clemente Island late Friday night after the boat crashed into the island's rocky shore. The sailors were forced to abandon ship when the vessel hit the surfline, and the five surviving crewmembers were airlifted from the island by a Coast Guard helicopter and taken to a hospital to be treated for cuts, bruises and hypothermia, authorities said.
While the sailors were experienced yachtsmen, the vessel, an all-carbon design from Santa Ana-based Columbia Yachts, was brand new, competing in its first offshore race. Former Newport Beach Harbor Commissioner and Columbia Yachts President Vince Valdes was crewing on the boat and was one of the survivors rescued from the island.
Others on board were boat owner James Gilmore and crew Mike Skillicorn, Doug Pajak and Ryan Georgianna.
Gilmore tweeted Friday morning that he was taking the new boat on its first race: "Gonna see what this boat can do!"
The boat was competing in the fourth annual 139-nautical-mile Islands Race, which pits sailors on a course from Los Angeles Harbor to San Diego Bay, going around Santa Catalina and San Clemente islands.
Just off the backside of San Clemente Island, Uncontrollable Urge issued a distress call at 9:26 p.m. Friday, stating that the boat's rudder had failed.
The vessel initially declined Coast Guard assistance, calling a boat-towing company for help, but the company could not take the call due to weather conditions. Sailors in the race reported 10-foot swells and up to 30-knot gusts of wind that night.
Yacht broker Len Bose, 52, was crewing aboard Adrenalin, a sailboat competing in the race, when he heard the chatter over the radio.
"We were about two miles ahead of them when we heard the call for assistance," he said, but Innocent Merriment, another boat in the race was closer to them, and Uncontrollable Urge ended up declining its assistance.
About 11 p.m. after failing to set anchor, the crew attempted unsuccessfully to deploy the boat's life raft, leading to the vessel's fate on the rocks.
Bose said he heard over the radio that another boat in the vicinity of Uncontrollable Urge ran into a fishing net that night, which could have been the reason for the rudder failure.
"There was so much debris, seaweed and flotsam out there; the chances of running into something was high," Bose said.
The death marks the third fatal accident to hit California's sailboat racing scene in a 12-month period. In April, five sailors died in the waters off Northern California when the 38-foot yacht Low Speed Chase smashed into the rocks off the Farallon islands.
Later that month, four sailors died in the Newport to Ensenada International Yacht Race when the 37-foot sailboat Aegean ran aground off Mexico's North Coronado Island.
"When you look at all three of these incidents, there were different reasons for the end results, but what they all have in common is that they all hit the island's lee shore, where the waves and wind pull you in," 2010 Islands Race participant John Drayton said. "For hundreds of years, sailors have been warned to stay away from the lee shore. It's never a good thing."
Drayton, who has more than 40 years of sailing experience and has competed in dozens of offshore races including two transpacific yacht races, said Uncontrollable Urge was one of the smaller vessels in the 39- boat field but was fully capable of making the trek.
"Those are experienced, knowledgeable sailors making difficult decisions on that boat, and when you lose your rudder, it's the equivalent of being in a truck on a mountain road and losing your brakes," Drayton said.
A memorial fund has been set up for those wishing to donate to the Williams family. Go to www.youcaring.com and search for Craig Williams 

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