Twenty years ago: A tragic end for Larry Klein

Published on September 11th, 2014

The 2014 Rolex Big Boat Series on September 11-14 marks the 20 year anniversary of when Larry Klein died during the event. Here’s an excerpt of a report in 1994 by Rich Roberts for the Los Angeles Times…


The sailing community has been shaken by the drowning death of San Diego’s Larry Klein, a world champion in the Etchells, J/24 and Soling classes, and 1989 U.S. Yachtsman of the Year, during a race on San Francisco Bay. He was 42.

Klein was skipper of the 38-foot sloop Twin Flyer, which was leading the fifth race of the 31st Big Boat Series on Saturday (September 17, 1994) when the outboard port hiking rack collapsed and dumped him and six other crewmen into the water between the city front and Alcatraz Island.

Twin Flyer was a modified monohull sloop, owned by Dyna Yacht, Inc., of San Diego. The company is headed by Alberto Calderon, whose innovative ideas for making sailboats go fast have been tried in the America’s Cup with some promise and limited success. Calderon said Twin Flyer has been described accurately as an experimental boat.

About a year and a half ago, Calderon added what others have called “hiking racks” but what he calls “deck extensions.” They were gull-wing platforms extending three feet outboard from the hull where the crew’s body weight could provide more leverage to restrict the boat’s heeling over in strong wind.

The diagonal sections were fiberglass and the crew sat on the flat part where canvas was stretched inside a frame of aluminum tubing. Calderon said the extensions were meant to support five people.

“It may have been overloaded,” Calderon said. “It was designed with a good safety margin. We tested the deck extension for five people at two Gs.”

The two Gs were to allow for dynamic stress, such as slamming through the four-to-five-foot waves generated by the 18-22-knot winds blowing against a strong ebb tide in the bay. Calderon said he had cautioned about overloading.

Klein sat farthest aft on the hiking rack, steering with a tiller extension. Among the crew was Ron Young, Chuck Riley, Jorge Hegoilor, Steve Enzensperger, David (Huck) Tomason, Jim (Jim Bob) Barton and Bill Burns, a research engineer who worked for Calderon.

Burns was the only one inside the boat, near the stern when the accident occurred. He also was the only one who didn’t know how to sail.

Four days earlier, on the way out to the racecourse from Sausalito, the Coast Guard had stopped the boat to check for life jackets. Riley had brought some from his own boat, so they had nine–one more than required.

But the life jackets were securely stowed away at the time of the accident.

Riley said, “When we were on starboard tack we heard two or three loud cracking noises to leeward. It sounded like fiberglass cracking. You could actually feel them in the boat. We asked Bill to kind of check around. We thought it might be a (genoa) winch, a halyard winch or delamination of the hull . . . something going on.”

Source:  Sept 19, 1994 – Sept 23, 1994

HELP: Friends of Larry are looking for photos to commemorate his life. Send to paul@paulmurphyannapolis.com

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