A sailboat that capsized in a storm during the annual race from Chicago to Mackinac Island, killing two crew members, was not suited for the competition because its sails were too big for its weight, a sailing group says. The report by U.S. Sailing criticized the design of the WingNuts boat, saying its sail area was too large for its weight under the conditions of the long Great Lakes competition. The Kiwi 35-foot sport boat overturned on July 18th in Lake Michigan off the northwest Michigan coast near Charlevoix, killing Mark Morley, the skipper, and Suzanne Makowski-Bickel, a crew member. A competing vessel rescued the other six crew members from the Saginaw-based yacht. The report said:
WingNuts was a highly inappropriate boat for a race of this duration, overnight, without safety boats, and in an area known to have frequent violent thunderstorms. Her capable crew and preparation could not make up for the fact that she had too little stability, which led to her being blown over by a severe gust.
U.S. Sailing was requested to investigate the incident by the Chicago Yacht Club, the race organizer. Greg Miarecki, rear commodore for the Chicago Yacht Club, said officials had reviewed the WingNuts’ stability but it didn’t raise concerns. He said the report concluded that the stability index that had been used may not have been the best indication of whether the boat was too unstable to be in the competition. After reviewing the report, Mr. Miarecki says it appears “there’s now some discussion about having a stability index that’s different or additional,” and that he “would certainly welcome that.” Organizers say 355 boats and roughly 3,500 crew members took part in the annual race, which finishes off Mackinac Island in the straits where Lakes Michigan and Huron meet. The first race was in 1898, and organizers began holding it every year starting in 1921. The U.S. Sailing report praised WingNuts’ crew and the boat’s preparation before the storm, and it also praised the crew of Sociable, the boat that rescued WingNuts’ survivors and coordinated the search and rescue.
It was determined by the Charlevoix County medical examiner that Morley and Makowski-Bickel drowned after severe head trauma made them incapable of saving themselves. County Sheriff Don Schneider said his 11-week investigation found that the crew acted properly and no one was at fault in the accident. The report will also be studied by Detroit’s Bayview Yacht Club and could bring changes to another race next summer, the Beer Bayview Mackinac Race, which runs up Lake Huron from Port Huron to Mackinac Island, according to 2012 race chairman Greg Thomas. He added:
I am sure we’re going to have requirements about stability and righting moment and who we permit to race. Whatever we have to do to improve the safety of our race, I can promise you it will get done. It’s not going to go ignored.
According to Mr. Thomas, such accidents have inevitably led to safety improvements in the sport of sailing. Apparently, these were the first fatalities in the 190 Mackinac races that these two lakes have hosted over the years.
Source: Chicago Tribune and Detroit Free Press
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