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An Account of the Sunken Ketch

We’ve been trying to piece together what happened to a wooden ketch off Treasure Island on the last weekend of July. As we reported in a previous Lectronic, a sailboat — which some of our readers have identified as the Sans Souci, a Block Island ketch — was taking on water one mile north of the Bay Bridge and east of Treasure Island on Saturday, July 29. 

Vessel Assist reportedly tried to dewater the boat and tow it ashore, but the ketch sank in 25 feet of water. All three people on board were safely removed.

Ron Kucera, a friend of Michael La Guardia, snapped this photo of the Sans Souci in Clipper Cove last Thursday.

© 2017 Ron Kucera

Sans Souci — which is French, and roughly translates to ‘no worries’ — was donated to KQED by Norman and Karleen Harris about a year ago. We reached out to the station, but have been unable to track down the current owners of the ketch. 

We have an account of July 29 from one of our readers. As always, we’re not trying to point fingers, but rather, trying to understand what happened. 

Michael La Guardia wrote: "On Saturday evening, I was starting a singlehanded trip across the Bay to Presidio Yacht Club. As I was getting my sails up outside of Clipper Cove, I noticed the ketch Sans Souci coming out of the cove at a good clip — I’d seen them earlier.

"They were coming from upwind to cross my bow. I was a bit miffed because as the upwind boat, they didn’t have right of way to force me off my course, but the man at the helm gave me an ‘OK’ sign, and so I put up the helm and let them cross. I noticed another guy throwing out a large bucket of water and thought, ‘huh‘. They made no signal at that time that they were in trouble. I sailed on along the east side of Treasure Island toward the Slot, while they headed off toward Emeryville under sail. The boat had a classic look, and I believe it was wooden.

"About 15 minutes later, I heard them call the Coast Guard on Channel 16 asking for a pump because they were taking on water. I looked back and saw that they were now about a mile away with their sails down. I radioed that I had two hand pumps on board that I could bring them, but the captain said that they would likely be insufficient and asked me to stand by depending on what assistance would come from the Coast Guard.

"I listened to the conversation with the Coast Guard dispatcher, who sent out a 35-ft boat with a pump. A Vessel Assist boat also responded. Before I got out of range of Sans Souci, I heard them say that water was up to their knees. I heard confirmation that they got pumps aboard and the Vessel Assist captain told the Coast Guard that they were attempting to move the boat into the lee of Treasure Island. A little while later, I heard another boat report a sunken vessel to the Coast Guard — I assumed this meant they had not been able to save Sans Souci.

"This whole incident left me with a number of questions. First, I doubted my own responsibilities. I reached out to the captain with an offer of help as I know I’m required. The captain asked me not to come immediately, but I was concerned that perhaps I should not have listened. As I mentioned, I was singlehanding, and knew that in the heavy winds (blowing 20 to 25 knots at the time), I would have been of little assistance and might have hindered any legitimate rescue efforts by getting in the way.

"The second question related to the behavior of Sans Souci. They left the protection of Clipper Cove with a gentle beach and several good docks. They were at high speed under sail. They passed the pier at the end of the cove. They ignored the shallow cove with the boat ramp at the north end of Treasure Island. They didn’t turn back at any point. Why? Aside from missing one of the finer points of rules of right of way, they appeared to have their boat under control, so they didn’t appear to be impaired (from my glancing encounter and from listening to the radio conversations). They gave me an ‘OK’ sign and a thumbs-up. Why didn’t they say something when we were only two boat lengths apart?

"I’d love to hear the story directly from the captain of Sans Souci. I’m sorry that the boat went down. I know how quickly things can go wrong and know that ‘there but for the grace of . . .’ I hope that there are some happy endings here."

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