Search continues for missing yacht skipper after collision claims three lives

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – The body of the skipper of a yacht apparently smashed
to pieces by a ship off the Coronado Islands remained missing Monday, as the
families of all four men aboard wondered how the accident could have happened.

A spokesman for Newport Ocean Sailing Association, which puts on the
annual Newport to Ensenada race, said the wreckage of the 37-foot Aegean
dropped off the race's boat-tracking system about 1:30 a.m. Saturday, and the
debris field found when the sun rose later the same day suggested it was hit by
a much larger vessel.

Sailors who knew skipper Theo Mavromatis, 49, of Redondo Beach, said he
was conscientious, safety oriented and had his Hunter 376 outfitted with “all
the bells and whistles,” including radar, which is a collision-avoidance tool.

Winds were light at the time, and if only one person were on deck, he
may have had trouble starting the boat's auxiliary engine and getting out of
the way in time.

On Saturday afternoon, the bodies of Joseph Lester Stewart, 64, of
Bradenton, Fla. and 57-year-old William Reed Johnson Jr. of Torrance were
recovered, along with the body another crew mate whose name was unavailable
early today.

The ship that struck the fiberglass sloop has not been identified. Some
of the first rescuers on scene were able to identify a debris field as that of
the Aegean, because its transom, emblazoned with its name, was still afloat.

The yacht was one of 213 sailboats in the roughly 125-mile race, which
started about noon Friday. Most boats finished Saturday.

The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search Sunday afternoon.

“It's never easy to make the decision to suspend a search and rescue
case,” said Capt. Sean Mahoney, the commander of the agency's San Diego
sector. “The Coast Guard extends its sympathies to the families and friends of
the Aegean crew. They will be in our thoughts and prayers.”

The fatalities were first in the 65 years that the Newport to Ensenada
race has been run, race organizers said.

Rich Roberts of the Newport Ocean Sailing Association, which puts on the
race, said the collision occurred just south of border near the Coronado
Islands, a group of four islands about 8 miles off the Baja California coast.

The course of the Aegean crossed shipping lanes used by commercial and
military ships headed to and from the ports of San Diego and Ensenada, and
maritime investigators will attempt to identify the ship involved. The captain
of ship hundreds of times as big as the Aegean might have been unaware of the

The deaths marked the second yachting disaster this spring. On April 14
off San Francisco, five lives were lost when a yacht in a race around the
Farallon Islands was disabled by a breaking wave and washed onto a rocky shore.
That prompted the Coast Guard to suspend offshore sailboat racing in Northern

Categories: KUSI