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Sailors reflect after Aegean's collision

What to look for on a watch and how to react are complex, says director of Orange Coast College's School of Sailing and Seamanship.

April 30, 2012|By Mike Reicher

"I don't know that any other safety requirements could have made any changes," said Chuck Iverson, commodore of the Newport Ocean Sailing Assn. (NOSA), sponsor of the 125-mile race. "We weren't on the boat, so we don't know what sort of watch system they have."

Sailors typically have a watch plan outlining when crew members are responsible for spotting obstacles and other vessels. They rotate to ensure alertness. While some boats the size of the Aegean have radar, it is unclear if it had such instruments.

What to look for on a watch and how to react are complex propositions, said Brad Avery, a past Ensenada racer and director of Orange Coast College's School of Sailing and Seamanship.

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"It's not something you can get out of a book," Avery said. "It's just time on the boat, at night."

With a reputation for fun and being a relatively short distance, the Newport to Ensenada race attracts all sorts of crew members, including novices.

"It's one of those races you can take your neighbor on, for the first time," Avery said. "But you have to balance it with experienced people."

While the background of the Aegean's crew is still emerging, its skipper reportedly won his class of similarly sized boats in 2009 and again in 2011.

Avery said that crew selection is important because sometimes the skipper has to sleep or take a break: "Do they have skill sets that approach yours?"

Iverson said U.S. Sailing, the sport's governing body, is conducting an investigation and will make any safety recommendations when it is complete. After a spate of accidents in yacht races worldwide, organizers recently have become more stringent with requirements.

NOSA holds seminars for skippers before the race, and Iverson said that he plans to emphasize night watches in the future.

"It's just a rare thing, because when you think how many hundreds of boats have gone through these waters and nothing has happened," Avery said. "It's everybody's worst nightmare."

mike.reicher@latimes.com

Twitter: @mreicher

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