Mystery of Newport to Ensenada fatal yacht race accident continues

Aegean at the start of the race - Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race 2012
Susan Hoffman
At 77, veteran sailor Chuck Brewer knows his way around the waters off Orange County and beyond – including the Coronado Islands off Baja California where, nearly a week ago, four yachtsmen lost their lives in a mysterious accident during the annual Newport Beach to Ensenada race.

Brewer, a well-known sailor who lives on Lido Isle, had his weekly breakfast with three sailing buddies Thursday, and most of the talk centered on the grim fate of the 37-foot Aegean, a Hunter 376 berthed in Redondo Beach that was found shattered into pieces Saturday.

The sailing community continues to buzz with speculation about how a veteran crew of four sailors could end up becoming the first fatalities in the 65-year history of the 125-mile competition -- a race regarded as more benign than dangerous.

Brewer raced the same night of the Aegean, and he's come to believe that the boat smashed into a sheer cliff at the tip of North Coronado island, where the Aegean's GPS-based tracking system made its last transmission around 1:30 a.m. on April 28.

Later Saturday, after responding to reports of small pieces of debris by a passing boater, the U.S. Coast Guard found the bodies of three of the Aegean sailors floating in a roughly 2-mile-wide debris field southwest of North Coronado island, about 15 miles south of San Diego.

Kevin Eric Rudolph, 53, of Manhattan Beach, died of blunt-force trauma to the head and neck, according to the San Diego County Coroner; Joseph Lester Stewart, 64, of Florida, died of blunt-force head injuries, and William Reed Johnson, 57, of Torrance, succumbed to multiple blunt-force injuries, according to the coroner.

A search for the body of skipper Theo Mavromatis, 49, of Redondo Beach, was called off Sunday after 28 hours.

Brewer isn't alone in his theory that the crew of the Aegean, perhaps with the yacht's motor on and engaged in autopilot on a virtually windless night, collided with the cliff and, during high tide, was battered against the rocks for hours by swells of 4-6 feet in moderate but choppy seas.

'It's the most likely scenario right now,' the veteran yachtsman said.

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