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Deaths of 4 sailors prompt changes to Newport-Ensenada race

April 19, 2013|By Lauren Williams
  • The Aegean with crew members at the start of last year's Newport-Ensenada yacht race.
The Aegean with crew members at the start of last year's Newport-Ensenada… (Susan Hoffman / Associated…)

New safety measures will be taken for this year’s annual Newport-to-Ensenada boat race following the deaths of four sailors in last year’s contest -- the first fatalities in the 66-year history of the race.

Nearly 200 boats are entered in this year’s edition of the 125-mile race, which in its heyday drew celebrities such as Humphrey Bogart and Walter Cronkite.

For the first time, skippers who enter their boats in the cruising class will not be permitted to use autopilot while motoring, either day or night, according to the race's media officer, Rich Roberts.

Whether the use of autopilot was to blame in the fate of the Aegean, a 37-foot Hunter 376, last year remains contested. What is known is that the boat dropped off the radar off the Mexican coast about 1:30 a.m. on April 28 and it was later found shattered into pieces, its four sailors dead.

Other changes in this year’s contest include a rule that sailors monitor VHF radio channel 16 at all times, and a requirement that two sailors must be on deck at all times, according to Chuck Iverson, commodore of the Newport Ocean Sailing Assn.

This year's race is scheduled to launch April 26, but festivities for the decades-old regatta start at noon Sunday with a launch party at ExplorOcean at the Balboa Fun Zone that will include a chalk festival, art exhibits, a beer garden and children's boat building.

The winner of the cruising class on corrected time will receive a four-day, three-night stay at the Hotel Coral and Marina in Ensenada.

The 1998 finish from Stars and Stripes, a 60-foot catamaran owned by the late Steve Fossett, set the multi-hull record by finishing the race in six hours, 46 minutes, and 40 seconds -- the only boat to finish before sundown on the same day the race started.

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