LOS ANGELES – Storm-churned seas during a sailing race off Southern California smashed a boat into island rocks, leaving one sailor dead, after the vessel's crew first sent a mayday call but later waved off help from the Coast Guard and other boaters.
Five other crewmembers of the Uncontrollable Urge were rescued after the 32-foot sailboat lost its steering and the craft began drifting toward San Clemente Island, where it broke apart, Coast Guard Petty Officer Connie Gawrelli said Saturday.
On Friday night, the crew radioed the mayday call and also activated a feature on the boat that provides authorities with GPS coordinates and other crucial information, she said. But the crew then declined assistance and instead requested a tow boat. Stormy conditions, however, kept the tow boat from getting to them.
"They were not in immediate danger and thought they would be able to manage completing the race and get assistance on their own," said Chuck Hope, commodore of the San Diego Yacht Club who helped organize the Islands Race. "Then things got worse."
He said the crew couldn't deploy a life raft or anchor the boat. They abandoned ship when the boat entered the surf line and broke apart.
When the Coast Guard reached the crew, they found 36-year-old Craig Thomas Williams unresponsive in the water, the San Diego County Medical Examiner's office said. He and the other five crew members were hoisted into a helicopter and flown to a hospital.
Williams was a member of the Silver Gate Yacht Club in San Diego, where the Uncontrollable Urge is docked, the club's commodore said.
"This is a very difficult time for the Williams family, the skipper of Uncontrollable Urge and the other surviving crew members," Carey Storm said. "(The club) and the entire Southern California racing community is a close family, and the loss of one of our members impacts us all greatly."
Storm declined to release further details.
The Islands Race website listed James Gilmore as the owner of the Uncontrollable Urge. Gilmore tweeted Friday that he was taking the new boat on its first race, and noted that the forecast called for 25-knot winds.
"Gonna see what this boat can do!" he tweeted.
Hope said the Uncontrollable Urge was known within the sailboat racing circuit and that its crew and skipper were experienced.
"Those guys been around, they're very good sailors," he said. "This was not a case of someone getting in over their head."
He said stormy conditions in the open seas caused equipment failures for two other boats, forcing their crews to drop from the race. The Uncontrollable Urge crew radioed that the boat's rudder failed.
"This was not an isolated incident," Hope said. "Conditions were pretty fierce."
The overnight, 139-nautical-mile race began in Newport Harbor in Orange County on Friday and was to take participants around Catalina and San Clemente islands before finishing off in San Diego's Point Loma.
The death came nearly a year after four sailors died when their yacht crashed during a race from Southern California to Mexico. An independent review panel said it believes the 37-foot sailboat Aegean ran aground on North Coronado Island off the Mexican coast on April 28, 2012 during the Newport to Ensenada Race.
That same month, five other 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 April 14 accident near the Farallon Islands, about 27 miles west of San Francisco.
The wreck prompted the Coast Guard to temporarily stop races in ocean waters outside San Francisco Bay.