Skip to main content

Finding: Ill-fated sailors ran into island cliffs

It was a hard grounding on North Coronado Island that caused the deaths of the four-person crew aboard the Hunter 376 Aegean, a US Sailing review panel has concluded. Aegean was competing in the Newport-to-Ensenada Race, one of the West Coast’s major sailracing events.

A US Sailing panel confirmed what the Google Spot track shows: The four sailors who died ran into North Coronado Island.

A Spot Google track that followed the boat for the first 85 miles of the 124-mile course shows Aegean stopping dead in the water at the foot of a rock cliff on the island at 1:36 a.m. April 28. Early in its investigation, the Coast Guard — in a flyover — “found a piece of the hull near where you would expect the debris to be,” says Chuck Hawley, US Sailing Safety at Sea Committee chairman and review panel liaison. “It was exactly where you would expect to find it, just off the north part of Coronado Island.”

Aegean was so thoroughly pulverized — by six hours of pounding against the cliff in a high tide and 4- to 6-foot swells — and the debris field so large that many thought the boat must have been run over by a ship steaming to or from San Diego, 15 miles north. “The reason for releasing this initial finding is to settle arguments about what happened,” Hawley says. A full report on the accident and lessons learned, particularly regarding issues of seamanship that may have contributed to the grounding, are expected by the end of July, along with safety recommendations, according to US Sailing.

Search teams recovered the bodies of William R. Johnson, 57, of Torrance, Calif.; Joseph L. Stewart, 64, of Bradenton, Fla.; and Kevin Rudolph, 53, of Manhattan Beach, Calif. None of the men were wearing a life jacket. Two died of blunt-force trauma, and the third drowned. Two anglers found the body of the boat’s owner, Theo Mavromatis, 49, on May 6 in the water near the islands. He, too, died of multiple blunt-force injuries, the San Diego County medical examiner’s office says. Mavromatis was a veteran of seven Newport-Ensenada races, winning his division in 2009 and 2011.

The losses on Aegean came hard on the heels of the deaths of five sailors in the Full Crew Farallones Race off San Francisco two weeks earlier. With nine sailors dead before the start of summer sailing, the Coast Guard called on US Sailing to conduct inquiries into both tragedies and make safety recommendations.

Earlier this year US Sailing completed reviews of deaths in the 2011 Race to Mackinac and in a summer training session on Maryland’s Severn River, and the capsize of the 90-foot maxi Rambler in the 2011 Fastnet Race. “If you look through the history of sailing, especially racing, accident investigations result in changes in training, equipment standards and [standard operating procedures],” Hawley says. “We’re going to take all of the results of these two investigations to heart and change what we have to change.”

This article originally appeared in the Augsut 2012 issue.