Inside One of Worst Sailing Disasters in US History

'Hundreds of moments that went wrong, for everyone'
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 6, 2017 4:57 PM CDT
Inside One of Worst Sailing Disasters in US History
Well-wishers congratulate 2015 Dauphin Island Regatta participant Robert Luiten on word that his son was found several hours after their boat capsized during one of the worst sailing disasters in US history.   (AP Photo/Mike Kittrell,

When the storm hit with enough force to knock a 57,000-ton, 600-foot oil tanker aground, Alabama's Mobile Bay was filled with much smaller vessels. Smithsonian, in a harrowing look at one of the worst sailing disasters in US history, reports 125 boats with 475 sailors and guests—some of whom had never even stepped off dry land before that day—were participating in the 2015 Dauphin Island Regatta when they were blindsided by an "invisible tsunami" in the form of 73mph, hurricane-strength winds. Three storm cells broke simultaneously—bringing driving rain, lightning, and 8-foot swells to Mobile Bay—and continued unabated for 45 minutes. Boats blew away, rolled, lost sails, snapped masts, and crashed into each other.

Ten vessels sank or were destroyed that day, and 40 people were pulled from the water. Six racers weren't so lucky. "It never goes away," says Scott Godbold, who came to the regatta to watch his son race but ended up a volunteer rescuer, pulling three people and a body from the water. A young racer who lost a crewmate blames the tragedy on "hundreds of moments that went wrong, for everyone.” Organizers canceled the race two hours before the start time due to inclement weather only to mysteriously un-cancel it half an hour later; the start time was delayed due to confusion; some unknown meteorological phenomenon caused the three storm cells to break at once; racers decided to try to beat the storm home after the race instead of waiting it out; and on and on. Read the full story here for the terrifying accounts of those who survived the disaster. (More Longform stories.)

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