Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race - Search for missing sailor continues

Moments of silent prayer for the lost sailors before the Lexus N2E awards ceremony Sunday - Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race 2012
Lexus Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race 2012, 125 nautical miles from Newport Beach, Calif. to Ensenada, Mexico, started on Friday, April 27 and concluded on Sunday April 29 with the Awards ceremony. It was a gloomy gray overcast day with late arriving sailors coming wearily off the water to learn in hushed conversations of disbelief that three - and probably four - of their colleagues had perished on the way… all that set a subdued tone for Sunday's normally fun-filled windup of the regatta.

Theo Mavromatis, owner and skipper of Aegean, a 37-foot Hunter 376, and his crew of three were victims of a violent accident that destroyed their boat a few miles offshore near Mexico's Coronado Islands at about 1:30 a.m. Saturday. Three bodies were recovered and the U.S. Coast Guard was still searching for a fourth on Sunday.

As that continued, following moments of silent prayer led by NOSA Commodore Chuck Iverson and master of ceremonies Gator Cook, the mood at the Hotel Coral and Marina, the race's new headquarters, picked up at trophy time in mid-afternoon with the usual tables full of artistic hardware distributed.

Bob Lane won a 2-year lease on a 2013 Lexus GS 350 for the best corrected handicap time - Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race 2012
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The most prestigious prize, the President of USA Trophy - and a two-year lease on a 2013 Lexus GS 350 - for the best corrected time overall went in absentia to Bob Lane, the Long Beach Yacht Club veteran sailor and pharmacist.

Earlier, Lane's Andrews 63, Medicine Man, chased Tom Holthus' slightly faster but more heavily handicapped Bad Pak across the line Saturday morning but appeared to have been beaten out by 10 minutes on corrected handicap time by David Lawson's Beneteau 373, Endeavor.

But Lawson, competing in PHRF-C class, withdrew later - officially, he retired after finishing (RAF) because he used his engine along the way, a privilege enjoyed only by Cruising class boats.

A day earlier the deceased sailors were brought to Coast Guard Sector San Diego and turned over to the San Diego County Coroner, whose office could not release the names pending notification of families. A separate source tentatively identified the crew members as Joseph Stewart, Michael Patton and Kevin Rudolph, but it was not publicly known whether Mavromatis was among those found.

Aegean at the start of the race - Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race 2012
Susan Hoffman

Leading speculation was that Aegean was struck and demolished by a merchant ship crossing the path of the race.

'We haven't discounted that possibility,' said Bill Fitzgerald, the Coast Guard's lead investigator for San Diego. 'We're still tracking down any vessel that may have been in their area.'

Large merchant ships and commercial fishing boats from both the U.S. and Mexico operate in the area.

Fitzgerald confirmed one report about the bodies found: 'None were wearing lifejackets.'

These were the first deaths in the 65-year history of the race, a record built on a safety program featuring several pre-race seminars each year and enforced by the race's rules.

Eric Lamb of Vessel Assist, a private marine assistance service, and his partner Bret Thompson, discovered the wreckage at about 10:30 a.m. Saturday virtually by accident. That was nine hours after the boat disappeared from an Internet race tracking system.

Lamb said, 'We were on another call when we came across the debris. It was spread over about three miles.'

They identified the boat by its name on a piece of the hull from the rear starboard side.

'That was one of the biggest pieces out there,' Lamb said.

He notified the Coast Guard, which sent a helicopter that spotted the bodies that were recovered. A Mexican Navy vessel also joined the search for the fourth crew member, which continued with Coast Guard crews aboard a Jayhawk helicopter, a 45-foot response boat and a C-130 Hercules aircraft, as well as the Coast Guard cutter Sea Otter.

Mavromatis is president and chief executive of Aegean Consulting Inc., based in Manhattan Beach, Calif., which specializes in the telecommunications and aerospace industries.

According to a report by City News Service, Ray Pollock of Marina Sailing, which rents out the boat for Mavromatis, he had his regular crew. This was the seventh time he had entered the race, in which he won his class in 2011 and 2009.

He sailed in one of the Cruising classes, in which competitors are allowed to use their engines for propulsion when the wind drops too low to achieve a predetermined speed they could make under sail.

Pollock said the Aegean had a brand-new engine and experienced crew.

'I’d probably rule out operator error,' he said.

The race had 210 entries; 200 started and 160 finished.

Full Results.

Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race 2012

Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race 2012

Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race 2012

Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race 2012

Newport to Ensenada website