Sailor Injured in Yacht Accident

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

YachtsBoating season is here, but passengers aren’t the only ones getting hurt. Crew members can also sustain serious injuries in accidents involving pleasure crafts, which is exactly what happened in Dublin this weekend. A sailor had to be hospitalized after getting hurt in a yacht racing accident.

The incident occurred yesterday when the French MOD70 Spindrift vessel capsized off of Dublin. The multihull yacht was racing in the 2013 Route des Princes at Dun Laoghaire amidst strong breezes when the mast on the yacht broke, causing one crew member to sustain injuries.

The eight individuals on the Spindrift, 7 crew members and one guest, were thrown into the water when the 70-ft multihull flipped over because of a 30 knot gust of wind. The victim Jacques Guichard, the brother of Spindrift skipper Yann Guichard, was airlifted via helicopter to a hospital in Dublin as the remaining crew members worked to secure the yacht.  The crew member suffered a fractured pelvis, which pales in comparison to some of the more serious injuries incurred in similar incidents.

Yann Guichard admitted that weather conditions were not optimal for the race, especially considering the type of yacht they were riding in. He explained another yacht had moved from next to the Spindrift, causing a sudden gust of wind to overturn the vessel.

Yacht racing can be a lot of fun, but as is evident from this disaster and several others, including a fatal accident last month in San Francisco involving British Olympic sailor Andrew “Bart” Simpson, racing can be very dangerous, especially if crews decide to race in unfavorable weather.  Simpson was killed after becoming trapped under an AC72 catamaran called the Artemis 72 that had overturned.

Simpson was part of an 11-member crew onboard the twin-hulled boat when the accident occurred. The crew was performing a maneuver called a “bear-away” during the America’s Cup race, which turns the vessel away from the wind, when one of the bows dropped below the water, causing the vessel to flip over.

Another catamaran of the same model belonging to a different racing team also capsized seven months prior to Simpson’s death. But the wind conditions on the day of Simpson’s accident were nowhere near as strong as this weekend’s yacht incident.

Winds were blowing between 18 to 20 knots, which is described by racing officials as typical for San Francisco Bay.  Yachts are designed to compete in winds up to 30 knots, as were experienced during yesterday’s accident, but not all vessels are equipped to handle winds of this speed.

California is especially prone to yacht racing accidents. This past March, another crew member was killed after a 30-ft boat he was racing in broke apart during a race near San Clemente Island in choppy waters.

In April 2012, four crew members were killed while racing from Southern California to Mexico died when their vessel ran aground and two weeks prior, five sailors were killed in another racing accident near the Farallon Islands, located off the coast of San Francisco. This particular accident led the Coast Guard to temporarily suspend racing in the Pacific Ocean near northern California but it didn’t stop any racing this year, or the subsequent accidents that have occurred.

These accidents all raise safety questions regarding sailing races and what exactly crews or racing officials are doing to keep participants out of danger’s way.

As time goes by, catamarans are becoming larger and faster. But while some may argue this contributes to the excitement of the races, critics say the large design of the vessels only increases the risk of crews getting into accidents.

Yacht racers must keep safety in mind at all times because no race is worth the price of a crew member’s life.  The maritime lawyers at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. warn of the risks of speeding in open waters, even during controlled races. It’s important that any boater wears lifejackets and abides by proper maritime safety regulations in order to avoid serious accidents.