1 dead, 5 rescued in sailboat race accident

LOS ANGELES — A sailor died and five others had to be rescued after sending a mayday call during a race but then declining help from the Coast Guard and other boaters as their boat drifted in rough seas toward a rocky island shore off Southern California, authorities said Saturday.

The crew of Uncontrollable Urge radioed the mayday call Friday night after the 32-foot sailboat lost its steering capability and the craft began drifting toward San Clemente Island, where it then broke apart, Coast Guard Petty Officer Connie Gawrelli said.

The crew also activated a feature on the boat to provide authorities their GPS coordinates and other crucial information, but declined assistance and requested a tow boat, she said.

However, stormy ocean conditions kept the tow boat from getting to them.

One of the organizers of the two-day Islands Race said the crew encountered more bad luck when attempts to deploy a life raft and anchor the boat failed. The crew abandoned ship when the boat entered the surf line and broke apart.

“They were not in immediate danger and thought they would be able to manage completing the race and get assistance on their own,” said Chuck Hope, commodore of the San Diego Yacht Club. “Then things got worse.”

He said the boat was buffeted by 8-foot swells and wind gusts of 20 to 30 knots.

When the Coast Guard reached the crew, they found 36-year-old Craig Thomas Williams unresponsive in the water, the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s office said. He and the other 5 crew members were hoisted into a helicopter and flown to a hospital. It wasn’t immediately known whether the surviving crew members suffered any injuries.

Williams was a member of the Silver Gate Yacht Club in San Diego, where the Uncontrollable Urge is docked, its commodore said.

“This is a very difficult time for the Williams family, the skipper of Uncontrollable Urge and the other surviving crew members,” Carey Storm said. “(The club) and the entire Southern California racing community is a close family, and the loss of one of our members impacts us all greatly.”

Storm declined to release further details.

The Islands Race website listed James Gilmore as the owner of the Uncontrollable Urge. Gilmore tweeted on Friday that he was taking the new boat on its first race, and noted that the forecast called for 25-knot winds.

“Gonna see what this boat can do!” he tweeted.

Hope said the Uncontrollable Urge was known within the sailboat racing circuit and that its crew and skipper were experienced.

“Those guys been around, they’re very good sailors,” he said. “This was not a case of someone getting in over their head.”

He said stormy conditions in the open seas caused equipment failures for two other boats, forcing their crews to drop from the race. The Uncontrollable Urge crew radioed that the boat’s rudder failed.

“This was not an isolated incident,” Hope said. “Conditions were pretty fierce.”

The overnight, 139-nautical-mile race began in Newport Harbor in Orange County Friday and was to take participants around Catalina and San Clemente islands before finishing off in San Diego’s Point Loma.

The death came nearly a year after four sailors died when their yacht crashed during a race from Southern California to Mexico. An independent review panel said it believes the 37-foot sailboat Aegean ran aground on North Coronado Island off the Mexican coast on April 28, 2012 during the Newport to Ensenada Race.

That same month, five other sailors died in the waters off Northern California when their 38-foot yacht was hit by powerful waves, smashed into rocks and capsized during a race. Three sailors survived the April 14 accident near the Farallon Islands, about 27 miles west of San Francisco.

The wreck prompted the Coast Guard to temporarily stop races in ocean waters outside San Francisco Bay.

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