A 37-foot yacht, the Aegean, was destroyed while racing from California to Ensenada, Mexico this weekend. The vessel was pulverized into thousands of tiny pieces and the entire crew was killed. Now the Coast Guard is trying to determine exactly what caused the crash.
It was first thought that the Aegean may have collided with a freighter or some other large ship. But according to a GPS tracking website, the boat could have hit the rocky shore of an island just past the border, Coronado Island.
A GPS record tracing the path of the yacht shows the vessel sailing on a collision course into an island, U.S. Coast Guard officials said on Wednesday, potentially undermining the theory that it was crushed by a large ship.
Coast Guard investigators have not recovered the GPS tracking device but will consider the coordinates as they try to determine what caused the crash, reported the Daily Telegraph. The GPS tracking information shows the boat landed on Mexico’s Coronado Islands at 1:36 a.m. PDT Saturday at a speed of about 6 knots. The coordinates were the last posted by the ship a day after it left from Newport Beach, where the 124-mile race to Ensenada, Mexico, began.
Investigators are also scrutinizing the sailboat’s debris, interviewing race participants and seeking records of any large ships in the area.
Michael Patton, a spokesman for the yacht owner’s family, noted the tracking shows the GPS tracking device landed on the rocks but not necessarily the boat. He dismissed the theory that the boat hit rocks because debris found just offshore was too small.
“Look at the destruction of it all,” Patton said. “You’re talking about it being squished.”
Eric Lamb, who found the wreckage Saturday while on safety patrol, said debris strewn over 2 square miles looked as if the boat had “gone through a blender,” with some of it a quarter-mile from the shore.
The maker of the GPS tracking device was Spot LLC, a unit of Globalstar Inc. Its palm-sized gadgets track movements of sailors and other outdoor enthusiasts.
Troy Sears, an experienced sailor who owns the San Diego-based charter company Next Level Sailing, said the GPS tracking chart “gives an important clue if not verification of what happened to the vessel.”
“It looked like they plotted a course for Ensenada and North Coronado Island was directly in the way.”
Sears, who visited the part of the island where the GPS tracking ended, said it was unlikely that the device fell off the boat because the chart shows a steady speed and straight course.
“That section of North Coronado Island is near vertical and it would be like hitting a wall. There’s no beach to stop or slow a vessel, so a vessel would make contact with a near-vertical wall,” he said.
The tragic deaths were the race’s first fatalities in its 65 years and came two weeks after five sailors were killed in the waters off Northern California when their 38-foot yacht was hit by powerful waves and ran aground on a rocky island April 14.
By ocean racing standards, the number of casualties in the two races is startling. Previous major ocean racing disasters have been caused by freak storms, including the one that killed 15 sailors in the Irish Sea in the 1979 Fastnet Race and one that killed six in the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race.
Gary Jobson, president of the U.S. Sailing Association, said the group would look at the GPS tracking coordinates as part of its investigation. GPS tracking devices are increasingly popular among sailors, said Jobson, who attaches one to the rail of his boat.