Relative of boat wreck victim questions findings

A relative of one of four crew members killed in April's Newport-to-Ensenada race on Wednesday called preliminary findings that the sailboat ran aground premature.

Anna Mavromati, daughter of Aegean skipper Theo Mavromatis, said U.S. Sailing — the sport's official governing body — relied too heavily on her father's sometimes inaccurate GPS device in reaching its conclusions that the 37-foot vessel struck North Coronado Island, about 15 miles south of San Diego Bay.

"We know that device isn't entirely accurate," she said. "It usually is, but it's done some strange things before."

Mavromati, who spells her Greek last name slightly differently than her late father, also said the organization didn't contact the victims' families before releasing information about the possible cause of the wreck.

In a previous race, for example, Mavromati said her father's GPS reported that he was on the mainland when he was actually docked in Ensenada.

A U.S. Sailing official, however, stood by the findings.

"Certainly the GPS tracking device, first and foremost, is what they were focused on to determine how it happened," said spokesman Jake Fish. "There's no other evidence to support any other conclusion."

The independent, five-member panel found the GPS device's transmissions to be infrequent but accurate, Fish said.

Also considered in the inquest were wind conditions, swells, stormy weather from the previous day, and the Coronado Islands' topography.

All four aboard the Aegean were killed: Mavromatis, 49, of Redondo Beach; William Reed Johnson, 57, of Torrance; Kevin Rudolph, 53, of Manhattan Beach; and Mavromatis' brother-in-law, Joseph Lester Stewart, 64, of Bradenton, Fla. The deaths were the first fatalities in the race's 65-year history.

The Coast Guard station in San Diego is also investigating the tragedy but hasn't yet issued a report.

The Coast Guard will consider the Aegean's route, as relayed by the GPS device, but what role that GPS information will play in the investigation's conclusions is undetermined, according to Petty Officer Henry Dunphy.

While Mavromati expressed skepticism about how quickly U.S. Sailing finished its inquest, at least when compared with the slower pace of the Coast Guard's inquiry, Fish pointed out the differing scopes of the investigations, with the Coast Guard's being more in-depth.

Some have speculated that if the Aegean indeed struck the Mexican-controlled island's rocky shore, its keel and engine would have sunk.

Because of the area's danger and depth, Fish said it would be difficult and unlikely to recover those sections of the boat off the ocean's floor.

The Coast Guard hasn't deployed divers to retrieve the wreckage, but Dunphy said that remains an option.

An early theory about the wreck was that the Aegean was hit by a freighter in one of the area's busy shipping lanes.

U.S. Sailing expects to release a more complete report in late July.

Mavromati said her family will eventually meet with Coast Guard officials about their findings and they hope to claim any personal items recovered from the wreckage.

Last year, the Aegean won its class in the Newport-to-Ensenada competition with the same crew, Mavromati said.

Mavromatis looked forward to the event every year.

"This was like Christmas for him," she said.

In the weeks leading up to the race, he constantly made adjustments to his boat. During a race he wouldn't sit down for more than a few minutes, and was always adjusting the sails.

"He was an engineer," Mavromati said. "It was in his nature."

Before a race, Mavromatis and Stewart hunched over the kitchen table, charting prospective courses after Stewart flew into town.

A native of a Greek harbor town, Mavromatis grew up around boats. In his teens, he built his first, a rickety and unstable catamaran, before later graduating to a more seaworthy vessel.

After about five or six years competing in the Newport-to-Ensenada race, Mavromatis considered making this year's race his last.

lauren.williams@latimes.com

Twitter: @lawilliams30

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