Death during sailboat race leaves yacht club in mourning


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A San Diego man died over the weekend during a sailing race co-sponsored by the Newport Harbor Yacht Club, officials said. Craig Thomas Williams, 36, was one of six crew members aboard the Uncontrollable Urge, a 32-foot vessel participating in the fourth annual Islands Race that began Friday in Long Beach and ended Saturday in San Diego.

The sailboat had issued a mayday call around 9 p.m. Friday as its rudder failed and the craft drifted toward the rocky shoreline of San Clemente Island. Initially the sailors turned down a rescue attempt by the Coast Guard or other boats in the race, but as waves pushed the craft closer to the island, the sailors were forced to abandon ship.


Williams was found unresponsive in the water by Coast Guard rescue personnel. ‘He was recovered from the water and death was confirmed without medical intervention,’ the San Diego County medical examiner said.

Five other crew members were rescued. The survivors were hoisted aboard the MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter which had been dispatched from the Coast Guard’s San Diego station.

Coast Guard officials said the Uncontrollable Urge was in small-craft advisory weather containing 8-foot swells and 10-knot winds.

The Islands Race route is 139 nautical miles and rounds both San Clemente and Catalina islands. The San Diego Yacht Club co-sponsors the race with the Newport Harbor Yacht Club.

The Uncontrollable Urge, owned and skippered by James Gilmore, was from the Silver Gate Yacht Club in San Diego, according to the San Diego Yacht Club’s website.

The death is the second racing-related incident locally in the past year. In April 2012, during the annual Newport-to-Ensenada race, four racers from one vessel died. The official investigation report ruled that the Aegean — a 37-foot, Redondo Beach-based vessel — likely ran aground before sinking off the coast of North Coronado Island.


The four fatalities were the first in that race’s 65-year history.

Len Bose, who writes the Daily Pilot’s ‘Harbor Report’ column, participated in the Islands Race aboard the Adrenalin, a 50-foot vessel based in Newport Harbor. It was manned by about seven crew members, he said.

Bose said the mood in San Diego at the finish line was somber after people heard the news of Williams’ death and the injuries. ‘That was the talk of the yacht club [Saturday] morning down in San Diego,’ he said.

‘It was kind of a reality check there,’ added Bose, who said racing is a dangerous sport.

After hearing of the death in news reports, many participants’ wives were calling in, hoping to hear that their husbands were OK, he said. While Bose never feared for his personal safety during the race, he said the crew knew what they were getting into before setting sail.

‘It wasn’t a surprise what we’d be facing,’ he said. ‘It seems that you go out there and you do it so often that sometimes you forget. That might’ve been the case this time for a few people.’

Most of the boats, including his, had equipment failures of some type or other, Bose said.


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-- Bradley Zint, Times Community News