Sailrace collision leaves three dead

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Three sailors died over the weekend during the Newport (Calif.) to Ensenada (Mexico) offshore race after their boat apparently collided with a large vessel several miles off the coast near the border, according to the Newport Ocean Sailing Association, which hosts the race.

The Coast Guard called off a search Sunday afternoon for a sailor who went missing after an apparent collision during the race that left three other crewmembers from the 37-foot sailboat, named Aegean, dead. The boat disappeared from the online race-tracking system about 1:30 a.m. Saturday near the Coronado Islands, Mexico, race organizers said.

An investigation was continuing, but it appeared that the damage was not inflicted by an explosion but by a collision with a ship much larger than the 37-footer, the sailing association said in a statement.

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

The fatalities are the first in the 65-year history of the race, in which 213 boats were entered this year, race organizers said.

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, according to media reports.

Aegean, a Hunter 376, is registered to Theo Mavromatis, 49, of Redondo Beach, Calif. The race sponsor didn't know whether 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, according to reports.

This is the latest tragedy to affect the sailing community.

Earlier this month, five sailors died after their yacht was rolled and ran aground off San Francisco. The 38-foot sailboat was taking part in the Full Crew Farallones Race when it was hit by large waves, tossing several crewmembers overboard.

In March, the Coast Guard rescued racers taking part in an around-the-world contest when a giant wave damaged their yacht off San Francisco. The Geraldton Western Australia was on the sixth leg of an eight-leg, 11-month race when it was struck March 31.

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