May 1, 2012

Another sad sea mystery

MORE SAD NEWS from California, where Reuters is reporting that two sailors killed in a mysterious accident at sea that reduced their boat to ruins during the Newport-Ensenada race died of blunt-force injuries.  A third crew member drowned, coroners reported on Monday, while  the fourth member of the crew, the owner, is still missing.

What strikes me as very strange is that the wreckage of the 37-foot Aegean was discovered in what appeared to be unusually small pieces.  The Newport Ocean Sailing Association says the Aegean appeared to have been struck by a much larger vessel during the race from California to Mexico.  It was 1.30 a.m. and there was very little wind.  But they're not ruling out anything.

I keep thinking yes, if a large ship rammed them head-on, the propeller(s) could make mincemeat of a yacht. But the yacht would have to be pushed down under the ship's bows for 20 or 30 feet before she could make contact with the propeller. Would that happen?  Normally, the yacht would be lifted by the underwater bulbous bow, then pushed to port or starboard, and scrape down the ship's side.

And would a collision cause fatal blunt-force injuries to two crew members?  It's possible, I guess, especially if they were in the cockpit; but wouldn't they have had at least a few moments' warning of the ship's approach, and prepared themselves somehow? And why couldn't they get out of the ship's way? Obviously they wouldn't want to start the engine while racing, but in an emergency when they were sitting ducks they would certainly be entitled to, and no race committee would penalize them simply for avoiding a collision.

Nobody has yet suggested an explosion on board the yacht as a possible cause, but I have seen yachts that were blown to smithereens by propane gas explosions. And I mean smithereens. Lots of tiny little pieces.

The other thing that bothers me is that, to my knowledge, nobody has suggested a review of the AIS records, which would reveal what large vessels were in the vicinity at the time.  I'm told it's possible for a freighter to run over a yacht without being aware of it, but I'm skeptical.  A yacht the size of the Aegean has a solid ballast keel weighing tons. Surely that would make a lot of noise and leave evidence of a collision?

I hope the Coast Guard is able to pin down some satisfactory answers. Modern science has contributed much to the safety of vessels of all sizes, but the sea still  creates as many mysteries as ever.

Today's Thought
If the danger seems slight, then truly it is not slight.
— Francis Bacon, De Augmentis Scientiarum: Principiis Obstare.

Apparently, one in five people in the world are Chinese. There are five people in my family, so it must be one of us. It's not me. It's either my Mom or my Dad, or my older brother Fred, or my younger brother Hing-Cho-Cha. But I think it's Fred.

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Anonymous said...

They ran into a rocky island with a steep cliff in 6' swell in the middle of the night. See latitude38 today.,-117.299395&num=1&t=h&vpsrc=0&ie=UTF8&z=16

Very unforgiving rock.

John Almberg said...

Ship or island, it seems like someone fell asleep on watch. Sad.