Monday, April 30, 2012

Pettiness And Gravity
By Michael

These steel stairs descend straight into
the salt water from the Turtle Bay pier--where they rust
away. The empty panga down the dock is our
taxi. Windy is about to make the leap onto the
dock before she helps the girls.
Windy woke me about 7:00 a.m. Wednesday, just outside the breakwater of Marina Coral in Ensenada, Mexico, about 55 miles south of San Diego. We weren’t finished going north, but we were done with the Baja Bash.

Upon checking in, Marina Coral let us know we had to leave no later than Saturday morning as every slip was booked for the finish of the Newport Beach-to-Ensenada yacht race.
So we all rested and enjoyed the ammenities of the Hotel Coral. I began writing a blog post about our time in Turtle Bay, 250 miles south. Our passages from Mag Bay to Turtle Bay and from Turtle Bay to Ensenada were benign, so I wrote about our 24 hours in Turtle Bay, how over and over, we felt like we’d stepped into a place where we were unwanted. It was strange.

It was difficult to describe these experiences, even using definitive examples, without sounding petty.
So Saturday morning, with everyone at Marina Coral wrapping up a week of bustling to accommodate the flood of racers, we cast off our lines and headed north for San Diego--my post unpublished.

All day on our way to San Diego from Ensenada, we enjoyed sailing north through the fleet of over 200 boats, many of which flew colorful spinnakers. As dusk descended, we contemplated anchoring off the Coronado Islands, unaware of the tragedy that took place there hours before.

Shortly after arriving in San Diego Saturday at 8:30 p.m. and clearing U.S. customs, we learned about the tragedy. My Turtle Bay anecdotes no longer sounded petty, they sounded unimportant. 

Tonight the U.S. Coast Guard called off their search for the fourth crewmember of Aegean, presumed dead like his three crewmates after their boat was destroyed 1:30 a.m. off Mexico’s Coronado Islands, just south of the U.S. border and San Diego. Aegean was headed south, participating in the annual Newport Beach, California to Ensenada, Mexico yacht race. Preliminary reports indicate 37-foot Aegean collided with another, larger vessel, such as a freighter. As they were for the racers over the past 12 hours, conditions for us were benign. An investigation is ongoing.
Saturday morning and from the deck at the Hotel Coral, I could
see the first of the race boats approaching the finish.
We cleared U.S. customs late Saturday night and we are tied up at the police dock here in San Diego. Over the past 24 hours we've watched dozens of race participants sail in to clear customs. I talked to a few crew who seemed pretty sullen when I brought up the Aegean. Everyone is eager for information, for answers.
For anyone who has not spent a lot of time on the water, especially at night, it may seem odd that there could be a collision between two boats, converging from miles apart on the open ocean, when one might be moving 25 miles per hour and the other 6 miles per hour. Yet, even assuming the crew of the Aegean kept a good watch, I can imagine how this could have happened.
On the sea at night, the crewperson on watch is looking for lights. In most cases, there are few, if any. The ones you do see, you pay attention to, watching to discern the direction and speed of the lighted vessel—especially relative to you. In this case, the Aegean crew likely would have seen many lights, of fellow racers, all of which would have been moving in the same direction and none perceived as an immediate threat. Assuming they weren't using radar, the lights of a larger vessel, such as a freighter, may not have been easily distinguishable from the others and therefore may not have been given particular attention—until it was too late. And too late can come very quickly and be disorienting. A backdrop of San Diego and Tijuana lights ashore could have futher complicated matters.
Hopefully we will soon learn more about exactly what happened. Windy and I talked tonight about our own watch keeping practices, especially at night. We affirmed our own strategy and reminded each other how critical it can be—not just for avoiding other traffic, but for avoiding the shore during coastal cruising.
The second of two whales we saw, sounding between
us and a race participant. Note three other
race participants on the horizon.
I don’t know why we did not hear radio traffic about the missing sailor during our trip north. We were tuned to channel 16 all day and heard several Securite broadcasts from a U.S. aircraft carrier warning other boats away from it. We heard numerous vessel assist calls. But we did not hear anything from the Coast Guard or race committee about the accident and the ongoing search. Only when we reached San Diego did we get the news. At the time we passed by the Coronados, we could have kept our eyes open, diverting to check on floating things we otherwise ignore. I think all vessels in the area should have been advised to keep an eye out.
The four guys who set sail aboard Aegean were the first casualties in the race’s 65-year history. They wore matching crew shirts and were likely excited for the downwind run that stretched over 130 miles. They probably looked forward to beers at the finish line and the celebration of their feat. They likely never imagined it would unfold any other way.
But it did. And this should be a serious reminder to us all to re-evaluate our own practices and safety protocols aboard. It is counterintuitive, but things can change in the blink of an eye offshore, even moving at less than 10 miles per hour. Need convincing? Read this outstanding account from a survivor of the 38-foot racing boat Low Speed Chase that wrecked earlier this month off San Francisco, resulting in five fatalities.
The dogs of Turtle Bay were friendly.
Windy and the girls headed down the Turtle Bay pier and into town,
two bags of laundry in hand (I had to carry the camera).

Get rid of the cars and the telephone wires, add some hitching posts
and Turtle Bay could be the backdrop for a western. It is a remote
and beautiful place, but distinctly not welcoming this time.

We rented this room in Turtle Bay for an hour just to shower.
None of us had properly bathed since La Paz...wait, maybe
that explains our reception.


  1. Wow,
    That was a fast bash! Glad it all smoothed out for you.

  2. I saw the headlines but had not read further. A collision did not occur to me! I thought of you often when we were in Mexico at Easter, each time i saw a billboard for a pres candidate!


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