What to do About Obstacles in the Water

Published on July 31st, 2016

Jamie Rosman, who crewed on the Beneteau 37 Chaika in the Chicago Mackinac Race, offers this post mortem analysis regarding obstacles on the route to Mackinac Island…

While I have no specific information on the sinking July 24 of the One-Design 48 WhoDo during the Chicago Mac Race other than what I have read in the media about the rudder shaft failure, I suspect that a hazard to navigation I reported during the race may be the cause of the sinking.

While sailing roughly abeam of South Manitou Island, I spotted a log/tree branch in the water. It was about 12 feet long and 1.5 to 2 feet in diameter at the base. It was large enough that I deemed it a hazard to navigation, especially given both the speed and the number of yachts about to traverse the straight.

I called the Coast Guard to report the hazard. CG Station Frankfort took the information including the Lat/Lon and issued at least one Securite call to the fleet to be on the lookout for the hazard. I know that at least three boats responded to the CG asking for a repeat of log’s position so the report was heard. Unfortunately I do not have the specific time and Lat/Lon that I made the report but CG Frankfort’s watch standers log should provide that information.

About 20 to 30 minutes after I reported the hazard, we heard the Mayday call from WhoDo. We started to plot their position to see if we were close enough to render assistance but before we could, several other vessels came up on the radio saying they had a visual on WhoDo, which we did not, and that they were suspending racing in order to render assistance, so we continued on.

A short time later, we looked at WhoDo’s Mayday position and the position of the log I reported. Since we were still racing, our plot was very quick and basic but I believe we found the two positions to be within 0.2 miles of each other.

Following the race, I logged on the YellowBrick race tracker which showed that from about 14:30 CDT to about 15:30 CDT, the same time frame of our report of the log and of WhoDo’s Mayday call, WhoDo’s track mirrored Chaika’s to within 350 meters maximum separation with much of the separation during that time being less than 100 meters.

While I have no specific information on the cause of the rudder failure on WhoDo, given the tracking information, I believe there is a compelling circumstantial case that the log we reported was involved in the failure of the rudder.

I hope that this information, along with that provided by the crew of WhoDo, will lead to a clear understanding of the circumstances of the sinking and will result in recommendations to prevent or at least minimize the potential for similar incidents from occurring in the future.

Editor’s note: We are pleased to report that the crew is safe and WhoDo has been refloated.

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