US Sailing Reports on Chicago-Mac Tragedy

A report released at US Sailing's annual meeting in Annapolis offers a comprehensive analysis of the circumstances surrounding the fatal incident in the 2011 Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac.

I spent a few days at US Sailing's annual meeting in Annapolis, Md., last week, where the big news was the release of a comprehensive report on the the Wingnuts tragedy that occurred during the 2011 Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac. For a story in our Jan./Feb. issue, I'll be following up with members of the independent panel that investigated the incident, and I'll take a closer look at the scientific side of the report. In the meantime, you can access the complete 70-page PDF on US Sailing's website.

Here's the gist of the report, as I see it.

1. The Kiwi 35 Wingnuts, a lightweight sportboat that gets knocked down easily and lacks the stability characteristics to keep it from turning turtle in big breeze and waves, was "a highly inappropriate boat" for a race like the Chicago Mac.

2. The storm was freakishly powerful, but such storms are not unusual for the Chicago Mac.

3. The crewmembers who perished, Mark Morley and Suzanne Makowski-Bickel, were knocked unconscious as Wingnuts capsized, and they became trapped beneath the overturned vessel.

4. The panel recognizes the competence of the Wingnuts crew, the rescue effort, and the race organizers.

5. By analyzing Wingnuts' design—which features a radical, "winged" hull shape and an extremely low displacement—and comparing the boat to others in the Chicago-Mac fleet, the panel comes to several conclusions and offers recommendations for determining the eligibility of boats and crews in future Mac races. The committee recommends implementing minimum stability requirements and identifies a more comprehensive method for determining stability in the first place.

6. In addition to the stability issue, the panel also investigated the use of PFDs, harnesses, and tethers in the race, and recommends that US Sailing's Safety at Sea committee further investigate improvements to tether, life jacket, and harness designs.