May 7, 2012, 1:11 PM
Post #7 of 17
* From Ray Tostado, HGYC:
Re: [The Publisher] Boating accidents - a sign of the times
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Any inquiry into the event of the Aegean is worth the bother of reading and listening to differing offers of speculation as to what occurred that middle of the night on April 29th. Even if by later disclosure the speculations prove un supportable, the conversation and alertness aroused by the event will do some good to persons otherwise disinterested in boating safety.
To date there is no talk as to locating and salvaging the vessel's remains. Only the accumulated debris might hold any evidence as to what caused the impact. Either a ship to ship collision, or an impact upon the vertical cliffs of North Island, Coronados.
The choice of imagining the vessel was dragged along by a larger ship has lost support and it is the general consensus that a vertical cliff was the point of impact. If this can be resolved by the salvage of Aegean's remains, and possibly the missing victim, will close that view of the tragedy. Whatever comes later, the impact trauma is without question was a very energy driven event. The strewn debris and the body trauma of the recovered victims can only conclude that this event went on beyond the first point of impact. Perhaps grinding along the island's vertical wall for hundreds of yards. At perhaps 7 knots, until the motor failed.
What remains, is to reconstruct the time period prior to impact.
The only evidence during this period is the SPOT tract record of Aegean's course prior to reaching the point of impact. This will remain the only real fact of this event. The transponder path is irrefutable evidence of the course Aegean was demonstrating prior to the islands. http://bit.ly/K1Bdng (The SPOT TRACK HAS BEEN REMOVED FROM THE WEB PAGE).
Up until the skipper decided to go into motoring mode, around an abeam position northerly of Mission Bay, the SPOT tract specifically shows what must be a human hand at the helm. The slight side steps in the plot is obvious. Then, about frame 27, the course suddenly becomes straight, and presumed to be aimed to the Todos Santos Harbor entrance as a lay line. What is very obvious at this point is that the selection of that course put Aegean directly into a collision course to the North Island.
From frame 27 the speed increased noticeably, indicating the motor was engaged. The speed likely went from around 1-2 knots to around 7. After furling the headsail, it can be assumed the crew went into a non-combat mode and the helmsman was the only assignment on duty.
It would not have been an error in judgment for crew members to have gone below to their convenience.
A time portrait now would have one man, with life jacket, on deck and on watch as the helmsman; although the vessel was in an autopilot mode. [?] It is not known if the A/P was interfaced with any GPS logic, or operating only with a gyro compass correction. That is, was the GPS if engaged to monitor the A/P course capable of issuing a warning, or course correction, to the land mass printed on all navigation charts.
It is necessary to comment at this time that it seems unusual for a course to be entered into an auto pilot and no one noticing the collision course which resulted. One can imagine various situation dramas during the decision to enter motoring mode as how it essentially becomes part of the entire race strategy. To not have visually traced the selected course and not noticed the islands seems very unusual. But the unusual is what usually occurs.
Someone at the helm, ready to set an A/P course calls down below for a compass bearing to the "finish line". This mark and it's coordinates would have overlooked the entrance mark to Todos Santos Bay which is used in order to steer clear of the headlands below Sal Si Puedes. This outside turning mark is very likely the lay line course which Aegean was using when under sail.
It is not currently known where Aegean maintained the GPS console and screen monitor. Where it was located would bear significantly at this time. Were it below then it would require a crew member to make the mark calibration and course. If it was at the helm station then very likely the helmsman would have done this determination himself. (Viewing a current photo of Aegean at the start of the race one can conclude that some manner of chart screen was mounted at the helm.)
At that time period, still under sail, where Aegean's course was set to pass the islands on the west side, adjusting to a new lay line, should have indicated a course which would have shown a heading directly towards the islands. If the person making the course determination had a specific awareness to their proximity. At the time of initiating the motor mode course correction it should have been determined whether to pass to the west or the east. Instead the course remains directly aimed at the North Island. Perhaps an option was made to wait until the islands came into view before making that choice.
Then again, if a crew member below had been asked for a course to the "finish line", that person may not have realized that the finish line cannot be followed directly as how it is inside the bay. It can only be approached from a seaward position, or a sharp left turn if following the Sal Si Puedes headlands. Race marks entered into a GPS course overlay would include an arbitrary turning mark 15 miles outside the Bay and a finish line mark inside the Bay; determined by wind conditions at that time if under sail.
But if that person responding to a new course selection was not experienced and familiar to the area, then this may have been the moment when the event's conclusion became inevitable. That person may have called back the finish line mark and inadvertently directed the vessel's path into the Islands instead of westerly in a parallel pass.
Any person on watch is traditionally responsible for visual surveillance. Having communicated with persons who have long term experience with the area state that the islands are very often very obscure at the dead of night to tired eyes. There are no navigation beacons when approaching from the NNW . It also seems that the closer one gets to the islands the less discernable they are apart from the night sky. In an overcast moonless night the islands are virtually invisible.
A calendar reference as to the moon phase note of it being a waxing phase around the 1/3 return. But the exact time of it's presence in the sky is to be further referenced. It is quite possible that Aegean had no moonlight at the time they reached the islands.
Returning to the time frame after the Aegean had committed to a lay line under power, it is necessary to consider a scenario involving the activities of the crew prior to impact. And also to the mechanical characteristic of the vessel under power, as to it's ventilation protocol.
The crew most likely adopted a responsible procedure of rest, nutrition and checking the deck items as to sheets, lines and sails ready for the time when sailing would resume.
Very likely there would be a designated rest period scheduled. Perhaps the crew had been designed as a 2/2 with the off watch taking a full rest break, and the on watch having a helmsman at a duty station and his co-crew sitting as company in the cockpit. Or, it may have been arranged for the co-watch to also take a rest break below leaving only one man on deck. If this were so, then it would be a fact that only one crew member had the responsibility of lookout.
Now enters a conjecture where there was an ominous event in progress in the cabin area. The engine powering Aegean at 7 knots most likely was churning up around 2800 rpm.
Unless one were to do a scientific analysis of the various wind flow angles over a Hunter 37 design form, it would not be possible to model an exhaust gas flow capable of entering the cabin. Often referred to as the "station wagon effect".
Diesel exhaust has a distinct odor not similar to gasoline's invisible signature. Or does it?
Would it be possible that as the helmsman was not aware of exhaust gases entering the cabin?
Surrounding air flow currents are in constant turbulence as the hull form vortex swirls; and possibly into the cabin; where 3 crew members lay in deep sleep. Such random flow can easily take control of exhaust gases as they condense at the transom area and direct them to the cabin hatch area, where the weight of the exhaust fumes would settle down into the cabin.
It is reasonable that the helmsman determined the end of his watch period had arrived and called below for relief.
At that time a tragic event was in the making.
The end of the helmsman's watch was in co-incidence to nearing the North Island, and he had not made visual contact. Going below to spark some response from the sleeping crew left the helm unattended, and no watch to realize the impending collision with North Island. (But, returning to the pre-start photo, shouldn't the map chart noticed at the helm have shown the immanent approach of North Island?)
This is all logical and reasonable. If it were functioning. Upon entering the the cabin he would have realized the other crew members had been affected by the exhaust fumes. His natural course would have been to try and revive them with shouts and shakes. At this moment he would have been the only one wearing a life jacket. At this moment Aegean could have collided upon the sheer wall cliffs of North Island.
The recovered victims were not wearing life jackets. Only one of the three was presumed to have drowned. The other two were defined as being the victims of "blunt force trauma". Not from drowning.
But suppose the trauma deaths were a misdiagnosis? Suppose the two victims were already dead when the impact occurred? Then there would be only two live crew members below when the collision occurred. The helmsman and the recovered drowning victim. The one who must have been near death but still breathing. And he would have downed. (The one clad in a T shirt?)
The deaths from blunt force trauma, likely were dead prior to the moment of impact as the ship broke up and their bodies were ejected into the sea already having died from monoxide poisoning.
The helmsman would have been trapped below, by the life jacket he was wearing.
If the impact was sever enough to break the hull so traumatically that the total flood period was a matter of mere seconds, he could have been pinned to the cabin overhead by the floatation of his vest as the vessel sank.
With the engine engaged at 7 kts the hull could have scrapped along the cliff wall until entering sea water smothered it's operation. This may have all occurred in under 60 seconds. During that time the hull would have continued to disintegrate and sink.
There is another option still possible.
It could be that the helmsman was also incapacitated and unable to make any course correction that would have avoided the collision. Add to that possibility, would he have also been attached with his safety harness as a normal act of protocol when on deck at night? Only the recovery, minimally the viewing, of the vessel's remains can settle any of these conjectures.