The long awaited Farallones report is issued from US Sailing: READ HERE.

US Sailing’s report on the “Low Speed Chase” accident has been issued and it is a solid study. Read it and draw your own conclusions.

The rest of the photographs are my continuing exploration of downtown Los Angeles. So many tell me that there is no architecture in Los Angeles and no culture; that it is a completely hedonistic place. While it is probably true that the film industry and the stars dominate the headlines; there is the larger life  of the vast majority of people alongside.


The Bermuda race starts in 5 days. And we are all conscious of safety at sea. The following is copied from scuttlebutt.

Randy Smith is old enough. Old enough to know how to play the sailing game at a high level, and old enough to know that it is only a game. Here Randy reflects on how he stays out of trouble when heading offshore…
I have grown up sailing, cruising, racing and delivering boats up and down the California and Mexican coastlines, along with racing to Hawaii numerous times. Even on my early trips as a kid with my parents on the family Cal 29, we encountered ships on the way to Catalina Island. I was always taught by my dad to know where the shipping lanes were on the chart and what VHF Channel 16 was for.

Fast forward 40 years, experience has made me a huge proponent of safety procedures: talking about them, practicing for them, writing down notes and most importantly, asking the questions that nobody wants to hear. Having everyone on board know how to use the GPS in an MOB situation, how to start the engine, where the ditch bag is, where the flares are, how to light one off, etc. People who I have sailed with know that I have become a bit of a fanatic in this regard, sort of a safety nerd. But the good news is, it is starting to become cool to be a nerd. Just like the movie Revenge of the Nerds.

With regard to protocol on commercial traffic, it is simple. The watch captain on deck has the ultimate responsibility to keep track of the surroundings. Ships are quite easy to see in day or night, and if you don’t have people on board with the knowledge of what a ship looks like in all conditions, you probably shouldn’t be out there.

I have sailed on boats with and without AIS (Automatic Identification System). For offshore and coastal racing, my experience with AIS is the same as radar. AIS is a very nice convenience, but we usually use it to confirm what we are already seeing with our eyes.

I have had some interesting close calls, including a large aircraft carrier off San Clemente Island, oil tankers in the shipping lane between Anacapa Island and Santa Barbara, and even large unlit commercial fishing vessels in Mexico with very confusing lights. Even in last year’s Transpac Race, we encountered a very large container ship coming up from astern at a steady collision course bearing. We heated up our course by 15 degrees well in advance, and it was as if he was trying to get close to us just to see us. When they were within 1/2 mile or so, they hit us with a giant spotlight and then turned right by about 45 degrees. Our next step would have been to call on VHF 16 and ask “WTF?”

When in doubt, we immediately get on the radio and/or make a course alteration to make our intentions obvious to the ship. In the event of fog, we would immediately deploy our radar reflector if not already rigged. I really cannot imagine a scenario where you could not see a large ship coming in day or night.

As always, most races are won and most tragedies are avoided before the boat ever leaves the dock. Attention to detail and confirmation that EVERY crewmember on board has an understanding of the following items seems to be the most sure fire way to interact with commercial shipping traffic and problems:

– Keep a diligent watch at all times.
– Upon sighting a ship, confirm changes in range and bearing or if bearing is not changing and too close. Determine what action is necessary.
– If AIS equipped, confirm with navigator the data on the ship.
– Without AIS, call on VHF 16 sooner rather than later.
– If a gybe or sail change will be required to avoid, get the off-watch up early to be prepared.
– Empower EVERY crewmember on the boat to know how to use the tools you have and establish a clear line of communication.
– Most importantly, remember this is just a sailboat race. Getting too close to a ship or land to make a small gain is just not worth it.
– If you sail with new people or on a new boat, confirm the level of experience and knowledge. Ask questions… your life could depend on it.
– When joining a new team, BE A NERD. Bring a higher level of knowledge, safety and seamanship to the team. They will appreciate you.


May 9, 2012 – Coronado Islands

Theo Mavromatis’s body was discovered this weekend by fishermen.
Photo Courtesy Aegean
© 2012 Latitude 38 Publishing, LLC


The San Diego County coroner has identified a body found by Southern California fishermen on Sunday as that of Theo Mavromatis, the skipper of the doomed Hunter 376 Aegean. Mavromatis (49) and crew Kevin Rudolph (53), William Johnson (57), and Joseph Stewart (64) were racing in the cruising division of the Lexus Newport to Ensenada Race on April 28 when their SPOT tracker suddenly stopped transmitting in the early morning hours. Wreckage from the boat was discovered the next afternoon, along with the bodies of three of her crewmembers. According to the medical examiner, everyone aboard sustained blunt force trauma to their heads, with Mavromatis, Rudolph and Johnson dying from their injuries and Stewart drowning after receiving the injuries.

From the boat’s track, it looks as if Aegean was moving at a steady pace in light winds — indicating it was motoring – when it appears to have run into the northernmost Coronado Island, but many still hold to the theory that Aegean was run down by a freighter in the night. The Coast Guard has yet to announce the findings of their investigation, but Lt. Bill Fitzgerald of USCG Sector San Diego indicated that the evidence is definitely leading them in a particular direction.

– latitude / ladonna


Images from the last “America’s Cup” visit to Newport when lead mines were still in fashion.


The reports of the tragedy of “AEGEAN” remains a puzzle for me. Could the 37 foot hunter yacht have been destroyed in the manner described by hitting coronado island? Then have the debris field float against the current to be discovered?

Was the boat hit by a ship as first reported and the transponder then continue to send a signal until it landed on the island?

As usual everyone has opinion, which has been formed without all of the facts. How often have we seen that happen in life?


So all the stories I posted have been just that; stories. As is often the case, speaking out before all the information is in. The conversation has just taken an abrupt change of direction.

what happened

The tracker doesn’t lie: The Hunter 37 Aegean, which was feared to have been run over by a large commercial vessel during the Newport to Ensenada race, actually ran aground on the North Coronado Island, killing four crew members. A nasty bit of rock, and with the decent sized swell running during the race, it is not hard to imagine the sort of carnage rendered, at least to the boat. We still aren’t sure how the hell they ended up there though… Click here to expand on the track.



Here is an excerpt from a posting by PUMA, currently sailing up the coast of Brazil finishing in Miami. It is a little ironic given what has been the sailing headlines in recent times here in the United States.

Early yesterday evening our course took us directly across the transom of a tiny wooden fishing boat, anchored no less than 50 miles from shore, and as we went by waving hello to four surprised locals at 18 knots, it’s impossible not to wonder if our new spectators have any comprehension of what they’ve witnessed. They have likely never laid eyes on a boat like ours, and likely never will again. A giant black jumping cat emblazoned on a tentacle-covered sailboat, a fast sailboat, faster than many powerboats. It must be bizarre but exhilarating, if only for a brief moment before we’re gone again, like a mysterious UFO just passing through.

Looking back on the six prior legs of this race, I wonder if the countless mariners we randomly intersect, lives we intermittently traverse in the middle of the worlds ocean: what did they do when they returned to land? Are they new PUMA Ocean Racing Facebook fans? Are they reading this update, avid followers of our plight like the sailors of the ZIM MONACO? Did they Instagram a photo of us from their fancy smart phone? Or not. Are we just an intense flash of a story on an otherwise typical workday for some seafarer that knows nothing of Volvo cars, PUMA clothing, carbon fiber, or the World Wide Web?

There was the ship of long liners off Sri Lanka, forcing us into a hard preventative bear away and a close race mark like rounding (I don’t know what was more impressive, the stench from their hold or Tony’s reaction on the helm). There were the countless unlit dinghies in the Malacca Straits, clueless as to the danger a night in our path could present. There was the teeming port of Singapore; an evening spent dodging and weaving through hundreds (maybe thousands) of anchored 300-meter ships. There were the fishing boats off Japan and the fishing boats off the Solomons. There was the fleet of halogen-lit squidders near Chile and then the busy trans-South Atlantic shipping lanes, the very one that brought us to our ZIM MONACO friends and eventual Tristan salvation.


I had some pretty pictures to post but this is a thread that should continue

Newport Ocean Sailing Association (NOSA) officials learned late Saturday that three sailors in their Newport to Ensenada offshore race had died in an apparent collision with a large vessel several miles off the coast near the border.

The 37-foot Aegean was reduced to debris that looked “like it had gone through a blender,” a searcher said Sunday after the boat apparently collided with a larger vessel, killing three sailors and leaving a fourth missing. The U.S. Coast Guard, the Mexican navy and civilian vessels scoured the waters off the shore of both countries for the missing sailor before suspending their search Sunday evening. It was California’s second deadly accident this month involving an ocean race.

Race officials said they had few explanations for what may have happened to the Aegean other than it must have collided with a ship like a freighter or tanker that did not see the smaller vessel.

If the smaller boat was bobbing around in light wind, the crew might not have been able to get out of the way of a larger ship, said Rich Roberts, a spokesman for the Newport Ocean Sailing Association, the race organizer. The race goes through shipping lanes and it’s possible for a large ship to hit a sailboat and not even know it, especially at night, Roberts said.

The Coast Guard said conditions were fine for sailing, with good visibility and moderate ocean swells of 6-to-8 feet. Officials had not yet determined the cause of the accident, and would not speculate late Sunday on what ship, if any, might have collided with the sailboat. A race tracking system indicated the Aegean disappeared about 1:30 a.m. PDT (4:30 a.m. EDT) Saturday, he added.

Other yachts near the Coronado Islands in Mexico — four small, mostly uninhabited islands — reported seeing debris Saturday morning. Two of the dead were William Reed Johnson Jr., 57, of Torrance, Calif., and Joseph Lester Stewart, 64, of Bradenton, Fla. The San Diego County Medical Examiner’s office was withholding the name of the third sailor pending notification of relatives. Calls to Johnson’s and Stewart’s homes went unanswered Sunday.

The Aegean is registered to Theo Mavromatis, 49, of Redondo Beach, Calif. The race association didn’t know if he was aboard, but Gary Gilpin at Marina Sailing, which rents out the Aegean when Mavromatis isn’t using it, said the 49-year-old skipper took the yacht out earlier in the week for the competition. Gilpin said Mavromatis, an engineer, was an experienced sailor who had won the Newport to Ensenada race in the past. A woman answering a call at a number listed for Mavromatis declined to answer questions.

Eric Lamb was the first to find debris of the boat — most no larger than six inches — scattered over about two square miles Saturday as he worked safety patrol on the race. He saw a small refrigerator, a white seat cushion and empty containers of yogurt and soy milk. “We pulled a lot of boats off the rocks over the years and boats that hit the rocks, they don’t look like that. This was almost like it had gone through a blender,” said Lamb, 62.

A Coast Guard helicopter circling overhead directed him and a partner to two floating bodies. Both had severe cuts and bruises, and one of them had major head trauma. Two race participants who were in the area at the time the Aegean disappeared said they saw or heard a freighter. Cindy Arosteguy of Oxnard, Calif., remembers hearing on her radio someone say, “Do you see us?” as she saw a tanker about a half-mile away. “I got back on the radio and said, ‘Yes, I see you,'” she said. “It was definitely a freighter.”

In Ensenada, several hundred people held a minute of silence for the victims at an awards ceremony that spilled out in a courtyard from a large white canopy at a hotel that served as race headquarters. Chuck Iverson, commodore of the sailing association, said in an interview that the collision was a “fluke,” noting how common night races are along Mexico’s Baja California coast. “We’re all shocked by this whole event,” he said. The deaths are the first fatalities in the race’s 65 years, the sponsor said. Racing boats are required to use lights at night, Iverson said, although the boats are not inspected unless a competitor suspects a problem and tells race officials. The race attracts sailors of all skills, including some who are new to long distances. “You get world-class sailors and you get first-timers. That’s the good thing about it. … It’s kind of a safety-in-numbers thing,” said Lamb, who has worked safety patrol for eight years.

The Newport Beach Patch website posted a photo of the Aegean’s crew at the start of the race Friday. Four men in royal blue T-shirts are on the deck as the boat cuts through calm waters. A total of 213 boats were registered, and the winner, Robert Lane of Long Beach Yacht Club, finished Saturday in 23 hours, 26 minutes, 40 seconds. A small crowd gathered in the morning fog at an Ensenada marina to watch the remaining boats finish Sunday morning. A notice tacked to a bulletin board alongside the racing times informed spectators of the tragedy.

The deaths come two weeks after five sailors died in the waters off Northern California when their 38-foot yacht was hit by powerful waves, smashed into rocks and capsized during a race. Three sailors survived the wreck and the body of another was quickly recovered. Four remained missing until one body was recovered Thursday.

The accident near the Farallon Islands, about 27 miles west of San Francisco, prompted the Coast Guard to temporarily stop races in ocean waters outside San Francisco Bay. The Coast Guard said the suspension will allow it and the offshore racing community to study the accident and race procedures to determine whether changes are needed to improve safety. U.S. Sailing, the governing body of yacht racing, is leading the safety review, which is expected to be completed within the next month.

In 1979, a freak storm in the Irish Sea led to the deaths of 15 sailors in the Fastnet Race. In the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race off Australia, a storm with hurricane-force winds struck the fleet in the Bass Strait, sinking several boats and killing six sailors.

Gary Jobson, president of the U.S. Sailing Association, said there have been too many accidents during races in the past year, and that the association is working to make the sport safer. “I’m horrified. I’ve done a lot of sailboat racing and I’ve hit logs in the water, and I’ve seen a man go overboard, but this takes the whole thing to a new level,” Jobson said. “We need to take a step back and take a deep breath with what we’re doing. Something is going wrong here.” Jobson said U.S. Sailing will appoint an independent panel to investigate the Ensenada incident, as it has done in the Farallon Islands accident. Article thanks to the Associated Press.




Only a few days ago, I was having lunch with some friends and the “Low speed chase” tragedy filtered into the conversation. He stated that t seemed almost inevitable  that something bad would happen during the Bermuda Race. Great efforts are made to assure all participant’s safety.

He expressed the desire to see a panel convened to review and perhaps set new standards for safety at sea before another tragedy.  It seems as though time has accelerated.

I suggested that there was no need to re-invent the wheel. The RYA  yachtsman courses (in England) has a program set up in several levels and could provide a very good template.

Perhaps now is a good time to start before legislation that may be a knee jerk reaction and containing unintended consequences is proposed.

I have participated in a number of courses both here and in England. The courses are improving all the time. A little story about one of these courses may illustrate a problem that cannot be legislated. I was in a pool with my assigned group having just inflated our life raft. The goal of our exercise was to make sure our team was safe. One of our team was incapable of getting into the raft. I organized for the strongest of our group to help the team member into the raft while I acted as a counterbalanced the raft. We could not get the individual into the raft no matter what we did and remember we are in a swimming pool.

I have often been faced with decisions with rather or not to sail on certain boats and there are times when I have declined to sail on a boat for one reason or another; the condition of the boat, predicted weather, who comprised the crew.


death, again

Newport Ocean Sailing Association (NOSA) officials learned late Saturday that three sailors in their Newport to Ensenada offshore race had died in an apparent collision with a large vessel several miles off the coast near the border.

Theo Mavromatis is the owner and skipper of the sailboat Aegean, a Hunter 376 representing the Little Ships Fleet club, but it was not known if he was one of the victims. A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter led Vessel Assist to two bodies and later retrieved another. None of the bodies had been identified. A crew list was not immediately available, nor was it known how many other crew may have been on the boat, which is usually sailed by five or more persons.

The first indication of the incident was at 1:30 a.m. Saturday when the boat’s image vanished from the online race tracking system in place for the race. A Coast Guard search was launched that led to discovery of the boat’s wreckage, including the rear transom with the boat’s name on it.

An investigation was continuing, but it appeared the damage was not inflicted by an explosion but by a collision with a ship much larger than the 37-foot vessel.

The race started off Newport Beach in mid-day Friday and many boats finished in Ensenada Saturday, with the last ones due in Sunday. Weather conditions were lighter than normal at the time and place of the incident, with boats reporting winds of only 1 or 2 knots.

These would be the first fatalities in the 65-year history of the race, in which as many as 675 boats have competed in 1983 and 213 were entered this year. Discussion here.


This conversation is not over. I am certain many of you have your own opinions as to what happened, what should have happened and what should be done about it.

Amidst the terrible grief of our friends in San Francisco over the loss of five crew of Low Speed Chase comes the inevitable overreaction from the government and investigation by self-proclaimed experts. A boat is rolled in big surf and it’s time to ban racing outside the Gate for two months? When’s the last time fishing was banned when some johnboat was blown out to sea and lost? Loss of life is horrible, but even worse is loss of freedom. None of the dead would have wanted that, and we hope the folks at the USCG and US Sailing remember that. Anarchist “keel haulin” wrote maybe the most difficult analysis of this matter we have seen yet, but it rings true…from the “Wide Open Discussion” thread. Also, take the time to learn more about what happens to big waveswhen they come to shore.

I don’t post on this forum often; but I see lots of argument about whether Low Speed Chase was too close, and what should have been done, what equipment should be worn, etc. I’m going to go on the record here and say that everything I have read and seen about where boats were on the Crewed Farallones tells me that ALL of the boats that transited the area were in too close and that LSC got caught in a large set. I hate to burst bubbles about what people think is safe, but I think this tragedy should burst a few; and hopefully the skippers who go racing there next time will consider what I am going to say here before they also decide to round the windward side of SE Farallone two to three waves away from the break.

I’m going to say this once. It is the responsibility of the skipper of a vessel to ensure the safety of the vessel and her crew. Regardless of what happens; or how it happens. It makes little difference if the wave was ‘freak’ or larger than average. It is still the responsibility of the skipper to ask himself “WHAT IF”. With regard to the LSC tragedy; the WHAT IF should have been asked about the possibility of ANY FAILURE or sea condition that would put the boat into the danger zone. This question was not asked by the LSC skipper AND THE BOATS HE WAS FOLLOWING. Everyone else got lucky that a big set did not arrive and smash them into the shore.

The NW end of SE Farallone is a reef. Anything 10 fathoms or less is “reef depth” and a potential break zone. The topology of the break zone is similar to the Mavericks reef. On days when there are large seas; this area would look like a big day at Mavericks. If the seas are 12-15 feet, large sets of waves that are 20-25 feet should be expected. In normal offshore sailing conditions these swells are noticed but not dangerous. When they run up onto a reef (a shallowing zone) they turn into 30-40′ monsters. They break much further out than the ‘normal’ break zone. These waves are not uncommon and they are not to be ‘unexpected’. Based on photos and looking at charts; being 125 yards outside of the break zone would put the LSC and other transiting boats in a depth of 30-40 feet. It’s too close to a lee shore/reef with large breakers. I’m sorry but that’s just the way it is. Mistakes were made by the skippers who sailed through the area in those conditions. We all need to accept it and learn from it; and stop bickering about what people don’t want to accept (that the skippers who sailed through that reef were all doing the wrong thing).

Waves of this magnitude put all bets off in terms of survivability on the boat, tethered on, or off. The three that survived were lucky. Everyone onboard were in grave danger before the wave broke. In a breaking surf wave, jacklines, tethers, and harnesses, will snap like weak rubber bands. They are not designed to withstand these types of loads. If they did stand up to it the forces on the human body would be deadly. While I agree that staying onboard is paramount to crew safety (“don’t fall off the boat”); there is another cardinal rule that supersedes it. It’s “give lee shores a wide berth”. If that had been done we would not be talking about what the sailors should be wearing. If change is to come from this (and it should) it should be for a call from within the racing community for racecourse laylines/waypoints or off-limits depth contours.

I’m pretty sure the USCG suspended racing so the racing organizations can get their shit together and come up with some ‘lessons learned’ mitigation for this tragedy; so that public outcry can be tamed. Otherwise expect the USCG to be up everyone’s ass who goes racing; especially racers going outside of the bay.


This is a story from a race in 2009 that took place in San Francisco as well. The Coast Guard has asked for a suspension of racing in the Bay until an inquiry is completed into the “Low Speed Chase” tragedy.

Doublehanded Farallones Race

March 30, 2009 – Bay and Ocean

DH Farallones
(Click on the photo to enlarge it.)

Heat Wave, along with 10 other racers, waited out the lull near Pt. Bonita and wound up rounding the rocks. Unfortunately, they didn’t finish the race. © 2012 Peter Lyons / www.lyonsimaging.com

For most competitors, the 30th Annual Doublehanded Farallones Race was a bust windwise. But in the drama department, it was the ‘most listened to radio program’ sinceWar of the Worlds.

The event began normally enough early Saturday morning, with 79 starters escorted out the Golden Gate by scraps of westerly and a dying ebb. But the wind pretty much shut off at Point Bonita, and the fleet parked. When folks could still see the lighthouse around noon — when they should have been rounding the island — they started dropping out and heading for home. Ultimately, only 11 boats toughed it out to finish, with Stephen Marco and Curtis Pitts leading the way across the finish line on the Newick 38 trimaran Native after 10 1/2 hours on the course. Second in — and the first monohull — was Trevor Baylis and Paul Allen on the J/100 Brilliant. They finished at 7:35, after 11 1/2 hours. For the rest of the results, log onto www.sfbama.org.

Dream Chaser
John Woodhull and Bill Wilson of the Hinckley 42 Dream Chaser, along with many other DHF drop-outs, enjoyed a lovely day on the Bay.
Photo Latitude / JR
© 2012 Latitude 38 Publishing, LLC

But if the 2009 Doublehanded Farallones Race itself will be best remembered for its almost 90% attrition, it will also be remembered for one of the most dramatic rescues in recent memory. It played out over the VHF radio on Saturday night and, for anyone listening in (ourselves included), beat out any ‘reality’ show TV could ever cook up. Read about it next.

(Because we wanted to bring you the most up-to-date information on the rescue, we’ll continue the weekend racing roundup on Wednesday’s ‘Lectronic Latitude.)

– latitude / jr

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Dramatic Rescue in DHF

March 30, 2009 – Outside the Gate

Heat Wave
Heat Wave at the start of the Doublehanded Farallones.
© 2012 Peter Lyons / www.lyonsimaging.com

When longtime Sausalito resident and friend of Latitude Dave Wilhite was diagnosed with leukemia in 2004, he moved to Bellingham, WA, to be close to his parents while he waited to die. Thankfully chemo did its job and Wilhite, 51, is in full remission. “Three months ago, my doctor told me I’d die from getting hit by a bus before I died from leukemia,” he told us last night. “I can’t wait to tell him I almost died in a yacht race.”

Wilhite says he’d been planning to do BAMA’s Doublehanded Farallones Race since January. Since he doesn’t own a boat on the Bay, he asked his old friend Peter Truce of San Rafael if he could borrow his 1994 J/80 Heat Wave. Truce readily agreed and Wilhite began preparing for the race. “This is a tough race,” he said of the nearly 60-mile course around the Farallones and back, “and I never took it lightly.” Indeed, he was meticulous in his preparation of Heat Wave and himself, putting together safety gear, working on the boat and recruiting an excellent crewmember.

Wilhite met Dave Servais, 24, while racing on Puget Sound. After Servais moved to San Diego to pursue his goal of being a professional sailor — he’s a professional rigger and has taught at J/World — the two kept in touch. When it came time to choose crew for the race, Wilhite immediately contacted Servais, who immediately said yes. “We’ve only known each other a couple of years,” he notes, “but we have really great communication and sail well together.”

As noted in the lead story, for most racers, the DHF was a total bust. But a handful held on, including Wilhite and Servais. “I’d spent too much time and money on this race just to bail out,” Wilhite said. So the pair stuck it out with a group of five or six other boats until the wind filled in. On the way back from the rocks, Wilhite reports wind in the low-20s with gusts to 30. A little higher than forecast but not dangerous.

“By a little after 8 p.m., we were beam reaching under jib and a reefed main,” Wilhite recalls. He noted the waves were 12-14 feet with a fairly long period between, a fact the Coast Guard confirmed, though they put the wind speed closer to 40 knots. “Dave (Servais) was setting us up on a wave, reaching across it, when we heard a whuump,” said Wilhite. “The helm turned to slush, the boat slowed and the wave we were shooting broke over us. Then we heard a cracking sound like a tree falling over — that was the sound of the keel ripping off.”

The boat immediately turned turtle, submerging the pair, who were tethered to the boat and wearing PFDs. Wilhite had a short tether while Servais was attached with a long tether. Once the boat settled and they popped up, Wilhite realized his tether was keeping him too close to the water so he pulled out the knife he had stowed in his pocket and cut himself free. “It was weird not to be attached to the boat,” he said. “Dave was holding onto the rudder and there was nothing else to grab, so I held onto the lifelines underwater. My hands are really cramped and cut up today.”

It was then that they noticed why they had flipped — nothing at all was left of the keel. “It ripped off at the root,” Wilhite said. “The only thing sticking out of the bottom of the boat was the bilge pump.” He says he has no idea why the keel fell off — “It’s not something you’re prepared for” — saying there was no evidence they’d hit anything. Some wonder if it’s possible they hit a large sea mammal that was moving in the same direction, but the question quickly becomes irrelevant when you’re holding on for your life in the North Pacific.

Just moments after getting their bearings, the duo realized a Moore 24 — they have no idea which one — was screaming by about 100 yards away. They yelled but went unheard. “My first thought was, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to die.'” Instead of panicking, the two experienced sailors discussed their options. They had a knife and a compact but powerful waterproof LED flashlight that Wilhite had stowed in his pocket. But without a way to communicate, things would turn ugly fast.

Wilhite knew there was a waterproof handheld VHF in a sheet bag in the  submerged cockpit. “I was presented with a choice,” Wilhite said. “I remembered a line from Shawshank Redemption: ‘Get busy living or get busy dying.'” So he took a deep breath, let go of the lifeline and swam back under the boat!

Let’s pause for a moment to let that sink in. In 12- to 14-ft seas with 40-knot winds, this man with a pair of cojones the size of Texas and Alaska combined, let go of a perfectly good boat to swim back under it. If you’re looking for a modern-day hero, look no farther than Dave Wilhite.

Miraculously, the VHF didn’t fall out of the sheet bag when the boat flipped. Once Wilhite resurfaced, Servais, who’d managed to pull himself mostly out of the water, took over communications with the Coast Guard, calling a mayday around 8:23 p.m. Servais told the Coast Guard their approximate location — eight miles from the Gate — and that they were near a couple of Moore 24s. The pilot boatCalifornia was near the scene and began searching. Two USCG rescue boats and a helo were dispatched as well.

The crew of California were first to spot Heat Wave, guiding the rescue boats to them. “I was watching the helo work a grid with a spotlight coming right at us,” Wilhite recalls. “I turned around and the pilot boat was right there. I wasn’t going to wait, so I swam over to them.” It took a couple throws of the LifeSling but Wilhite was ultimately pulled aboard California “like a wet seal.” One of the Coast Guard rescue boats plucked Servais from the water a minute later. The time was 9:15 p.m.

“When I taught sailing on the Bay years ago,” Wilhite recalls, “I told my students they had 45 minutes to live if they fell overboard. I was in the water for more than an hour.” He credits wearing high-tech gear and calming himself down for saving his life. “After I realized I wasn’t going to get on top of the boat, I just hung out and conserved energy.”

Wilhite also commends the Coast Guard and crew of California for their amazing rescue efforts — finding a capsized, keel-less, dark blue, 26-ft hull in big seas eight miles offshore on an ebb tide in the pitch dark. Both Wilhite and Servais suffered hypothermia — Wilhite’s being more serious — but were treated and released from the hospital the same night. Both are back at their respective homes, no doubt telling their story to many relieved friends and family. There is no word on Heat Wave‘s whereabouts, though Wilhite reports it was insured.

“This was the second toughest contest of my life,” Wilhite says. “What’s ironic is that I wanted to do this race to prove to myself that I was alive. It would have been sad if I’d died, but I’ve lived a damn good life. It wouldn’t have been a stupid way to go.” For those of us listening to the radio on Saturday night, and for those who know Dave Wilhite and Dave Servais, we can say that we’re beyond thrilled that it turned out the way it did.