Routine Race Ends Tragically : Sailing: Perch collapses and ends life of Larry Klein, one of America’s brightest hopes, during event in the Bay Area.


There was no warning. One moment they were sailing upwind on windy San Francisco Bay, exhilarated on their way to their fourth consecutive victory in the annual Big Boat Series. Then suddenly seven of them were in the water, fighting for their lives. One--the skipper, Larry Klein--would die.

Klein was 42--tall, curly haired, intense. He lived in San Diego with his wife, Leslie, and their 20-month-old son, Alexander. He and his father, Charlie, were partners in J-World, where they taught sailing, drawing on the skills that had won Larry world championships in three classes and ranked him as the top U.S. prospect for the 1996 Olympic Games in the Soling class. In 1989 he received U.S. sailing’s highest honor, yachtsman of the year.

His esteem was documented by friends who spoke this week at a standing-room-only memorial service in the courtyard of the San Diego Yacht Club, his home club. Did Alexander understand? Did anyone?


The sailors said it had been a privilege to sail with him, which is why six others were hanging out over the water with him when their perch collapsed.

The St. Francis Yacht Club’s Big Boat Series is one of the West Coast’s premier events for larger sailboats. A few days before the event last week, Klein was still short a couple of crew members, so he telephoned Ron Young of San Francisco and invited him to race. Klein didn’t have to ask twice.

“Larry’s a great sailor and I liked sailing with him,” Young said.

Young brought a friend and neighbor, Chuck Riley, the father of Dawn Riley, who skippered the all-woman crew in the recent Whitbread Round-the-World Race, her second.

They would sail Twin Flyer, a modified monohull sloop with a single mast, owned by Dyna Yacht, Inc., of San Diego. The company is headed by Alberto Calderon, whose innovative ideas for making sailboats go fast have been tried in the America’s Cup with some promise and limited success. Calderon said Twin Flyer has been described accurately as an experimental boat.

Twin Flyer was tricky to sail but, Young said, in the hands of an expert like Klein and “when everything was right, the boat was a rocket ship.”

Calderon said, “The boat had two purposes in going (to San Francisco). One was scientific. The other was racing.”


And race it did. Twin Flyer was about the hottest thing on the bay. Klein and his crew finished fifth in the first race, twice sliding sideways into mark buoys. But once they got the boat under control, they ran off a string of three victories and were running away with their next race when the accident occurred.

About a year and a half ago, Calderon added what others have called “hiking racks” but what he calls “deck extensions.” They were gull-wing platforms extending three feet outboard from the hull where the crew’s body weight could provide more leverage to restrict the boat’s heeling over in strong wind. The more upright a sailboat, the faster it will sail upwind.

The diagonal sections were fiberglass and the crew sat on the flat part where canvas was stretched inside a frame of aluminum tubing. Calderon said the extensions were meant to support five people, not seven. It was so crowded that some were sitting on the laps of others.

Calderon said he had understood that a crew of six would sail the boat at San Francisco, but apparently the extras were added for ballast.

“It may have been overloaded,” Calderon said. “It was designed with a good safety margin. We tested the deck extension for five people at two Gs.”

The two Gs were to allow for dynamic stress, such as slamming through the four-to-five-foot waves generated by the 18-22-knot winds blowing against a strong ebb tide in the bay last Saturday. Calderon said he had cautioned about overloading.


Klein sat farthest aft on the hiking rack, steering with a tiller extension. Young, handling the mainsail controls and calling tactics, was next, then Riley, one of the two headsail trimmers. The rest of the crew: trimmer Jorge Hegoilor, pitman Steve Enzensperger, grinder David (Huck) Tomason, bowman Jim (Jim Bob) Barton and Bill Burns, a research engineer who worked for Calderon.

Burns was the only one inside the boat, near the stern when the accident occurred. He also was the only one who didn’t know how to sail.

Four days earlier, on the way out to the racecourse from Sausalito, the Coast Guard had stopped the boat to check for life jackets. Riley had brought some from his own boat, so they had nine--one more than required.

The life jackets were securely stowed away.

Riley said, “When we were on starboard tack we heard two or three loud cracking noises to leeward. It sounded like fiberglass cracking. You could actually feel them in the boat. We asked Bill to kind of check around. We thought it might be a (genoa) winch, a halyard winch or delamination of the hull . . . something going on.

“I mentioned the rack, but somebody said, ‘There’s no load on it,’ because there was nobody on it. After we tacked to port and went on that rack, I leaned way out and looked under the rack just to look at the hull for any sign of a crack. I didn’t suspect the rack that much. Just a few minutes after that, the rack collapsed.”

Calderon, who had left the boat after sailing in the first race that day, said later that the aluminum tubing had failed at weld points.


Riley said, “The very first thing I remember, almost before hitting the water, was it seemed comical. I mean, here’s seven guys sitting out on this rack, like when you go to a fair and you have those guys sitting over a tank of water and you throw a ball and they get dunked. That’s what it was like, except not having one but seven people in a row just simultaneously dumped into the bay. It seemed almost funny, for an instant.”

Less than a minute earlier, Young had noted the stiff wave action and commented, with dark humor, “Pray for the rack.”

Klein had retorted, “Pray for the mast.”

Moments later, they were praying for themselves.

Young said, “The very first knowledge I had of anything wrong was I was going backward underwater, and bubbles and light were disappearing in front of my face.”

When they all popped to the surface they counted heads, then Young said, “Let’s catch the boat . . . we can get it and win this race.”

Riley said later, “My thoughts were, ‘Well, let’s catch the boat.’ ”

Young was nearest the boat so he started to swim after it, yelling instructions to Burns.

Riley said, “I don’t think there was any panic or any monumental concern. I started swimming toward the boat but found with all my gear on it was a big effort. There was a fairly steep chop, which made it difficult to swim . . . even difficult just to float.”

All wore heavy foul-weather gear to stay dry from spray. Riley noticed that some of the others--particularly Klein and Hegoilor--were having trouble.


Young, 51, and Riley, 52, were the two oldest members of the crew but they also were the only two wearing tennis shoes instead of rubber sea boots, and were the only two able to swim effectively. Actually, Young had lost one shoe when he hit the water.

Riley kept telling the others to try to relax and float on their backs. After about five minutes he asked Klein, “Are you OK?”

Klein responded weakly, “I don’t think I can make it.”

Riley grabbed the collar of Klein’s foul-weather jacket to hold him up, then put him in a life-saving arm hold on his hip, his left hand reaching around to support Klein’s chin.

Then Hegoilor said, “I’m going to need help.”

Riley told him, “Jorge, you can make it.”

“No, I don’t think I can.”

So Riley swam to Hegoilor, dragging Klein, and was holding up one man with each arm when a sailboat that wasn’t in the race came along.

“They were right there, less than 20 feet from me,” Riley said. “I just assumed they were stopping and would pick us up. I could see all their faces and everything. They were all standing on the rail looking, and I think they just had no clue as to what to do. They sailed right through us and continued on.”

Young, swimming after the Twin Flyer, yelled back in vain, ‘Throw life jackets . . . throw anything.’ ”


Instead, he said, the boat sailed off a ways and wasted time methodically trying to get its sails down. He said he also saw a second boat nearby. Neither, he said, seemed to know how to execute a basic man-overboard recovery procedure.

“They could have saved everybody right then and there,” Young said.

Added Riley, “At that point I think is when everybody really started to get panicky, because we couldn’t see any other boats.”

“Tomason, separated from the others, had been picked up by another boat but Young was still swimming after Twin Flyer. Once, he got close enough for Burns to throw him a line but missed it by 18 inches before the moving boat pulled it away.

About that time, X-Dream, trailing by seven or eight minutes in the race, noticed that Twin Flyer had stopped and altered course to check. X-Dream, skippered by Steen Moller of San Anselmo, arrived a few minutes later and started pulling people out of the water.

“They were phenomenal,” Riley said. “They had the genny (genoa headsail) down by the time they passed through us and stopped the boat, and we all swam over to them. I swam 15 or 20 feet, pulling Larry and Jorge with me, using a leg kick, just getting there any way I could move.”

Hegoilor, Riley said, “was about drowned--almost lifeless--at that point. And Larry was totally lifeless. I could just feel him slowly losing all fight. He just kind of passed out. A couple of waves went way over our heads. I held my breath and came up. With him, it was just his lifeless body.”


Klein, 6 feet 5 and 203 pounds, was difficult to lift aboard.

“I put one arm up on the rail and was pushing up on Larry’s body with my other hand to try and get him somewhat out of the water,” Riley said. “It took five or six crew to drag him up on deck through the lifelines. They started CPR right away. When I saw everybody was out of the water I swam around to the stern and climbed up the transom ladder.”

By that time, Burns had gotten Twin Flyer under enough control that Young was able to get aboard and start sweeping the area for survivors. He saw the tennis shoe he had lost still floating and used it as a reference point. On X-Dream, Riley saw that Klein was getting maximum attention on deck and went below to check on the three others, who were heaving up saltwater.

“They looked terrible . . . absolutely horrible,” he said. “I yelled at them to keep them awake and from going unconscious.”

Then Riley went back on deck to help the X-Dream crew drop its main sail and account for everybody. Young sailed Twin Flyer back over the area several times.

Riley yelled to Moller, “Let’s go!” They motored flat-out toward the St. Francis Yacht Club.

A Coast Guard launch intercepted them and a crew member took over CPR on Klein, but it was too late. He was pronounced dead at the California Pacific Medical Center at 5:56 p.m.


Young figures he swam about a quarter-mile chasing Twin Flyer. He and Riley estimated they were all in the water about 15 minutes--an eternity under the circumstances.

A coroner’s report on Klein said there was no evidence of trauma or drowning, which seemed surprising. Witnesses described foam around Klein’s mouth. Cardiac arrest was suggested.

“I didn’t think hypothermia was a factor (in Klein’s death),” Riley said. “(The water) felt cold, but it didn’t feel numbing to me.”

Lou Marselli, a member of the Dolphin Swim and Boat Club in San Francisco, said, “The water’s 60 degrees (now). We have people here swimming in it for over an hour. Fifteen minutes doesn’t seem like a very long time.”

But if a person is wearing rubber boots and isn’t otherwise dressed for swimming, and other boats in the area fail to help, 15 minutes can be fatal.