The Ensenada Sailboat race from Newport Harbor to Mexico is a classic in every regard. A bunch of friends get together, buy some trick t-shirts with the boat name on it and spend a week-end playing with the big boys as they sail to a Yacht Club in Mexico and down a few beers at Husongs. This is called living the legacy and being a larger part of history. Lots of talking points for some businessmen and reason for them to take off on a Friday, a week-end and a Monday of course.
Unless you have set foot on a sailboat, the quiet, the peace and the eventual wind in your hair, swells coming over the bow and the wrestling with the turnbuckles, lines, spinaker, the wheel, crank in the windlass – as well as all those peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and beer in between become real challenges. For the two to three hundred boats that enjoy this annual right of passage – they even had a great sailboat called: Windward Passage – you become part of a great adventure club that becomes part of your own personal history. “Hey, we were in the Ensenada Race in 2012 aboard the Aegean!”
As we say, most of these guys are not professional sailors or sail racers. Most have not been on the Southern Ocean Racing Circuit or been across on the TransPac Race to Honolulu. No, they are just guys that are ready to party, have competition in their bones – strictly for talking points and love the comaraderies of the various Yacht Clubs, Flags and frequent meetings with the few professional sailors they are able to enjoy some mutual conversation. Lots of these folks are in Real Estate, Accounting and Marketing. Most are college grads who just love the Balboa Bay Club, Balboa Corinthian Yacht Club and a host of others scattered around Southern California, San Diego and even some from San Francisco.
Four sailors were lost the other day. Their boat was a small 37 foot Hunter 376 called the Aegean. Single sail. Three died of blunt force trauma. The forth is still missing and presumed dead. The Aegean was destroyed almost into toothpicks. It was hit or hit something in the middle of the night near the Coronado Islands – a known commercial tanker and freighter land. The thought is that the Aegean hit a tanker while outside the the Coronados Islands limits on its way to Ensenada. The death of these four sailors now has become part of Newport to Ensenada legend. How did it occur? Who or what did it? How could they miss a large target on their radar screen? Why weren’t they paying attention. Was it simply, as in most airline fatalities – simply Pilot error?
Years ago in 1970, we took a trip on a “stinkpot” – a name for a straight power boat – to St. Croix, Virgin Islands from Newport Beach. Along the way and after traversing the Panama Canal, we came to the waters off Columbia and the torrential run-off of storms and the high waters of the Orinoco River pouring into the Carribean sea. Trees as large as the giant Redwoods float out of that river at an extrodinary speed. The junk in the water is amazing and if it hit your boat – you could sink. Nightfall comes and that requires a serious redunction in speed to 4 or 5 knots and an observer on the bow with a huge searchlight to call out to the Captain Port or Starboard when large obstacles are observed. Throughout the night, we observed oil tankers and freighters traveling at speeds of up to 40 knots. Their thick hulls were unafraid of the various junk in their path to the oil refineries on Aruba and Curacao. We got behind several of them and tried to stay in the remnants of their wakes, hoping that they washed the junk out of the way from our 72 foot Shock Design stinkpot “Tempest”. We were up all night and daylight did not come quickly enough. We were lucky and only hit a few trees and junk….but luckily enough..we were going slow.
The Aegean was in a so-called race. What they were doing outside of the Coronados Islands is difficult to say. Most sailors probably would have not taken that tact. The Coronados Islands are also a Mexican Military Base. Things happen aboard any boat, much less one quickly set up for racing. Perhaps the radar failed to see an obstacle coming their way. Perhaps, the radar didn’t see an obstacle coming from behind. Perhaps, they all had too much beer and had all fallen asleep at the same time. Perhaps, the team on watch….feel asleep. There is an investigation underway to determine how it happened. We may not ever know the reasons. We may never know what hit them! It is very doubtful that anything that they may have hit at speeds less than 20 knots, might have been responsible for the disintegration the the entire sailboat.
Our deepest and most sincere sympathy goes to all their families, friends and fellow sailors of those lost. ” The loss of one deminishes us all.”
The oceans of the world need to be respected, admired and loved – so that one day, the oceans will give up their dead.