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Near-Hurricane Winds Ravage Yacht Race

If you think it was windy on San Francisco Bay, you should have been in Mobile Bay, Alabama. During the 57th running of the Dauphin Island Race, an unexpected storm packing near-hurricane-force winds came up so suddenly that some of the roughly 150 competing boats didn’t even have time to reef. 

The Coast Guard reports that 10 boats were capsized or otherwise incapacitated when the 60-knot storm entered Mobile Bay at roughly 4:30 p.m. Saturday with steep seas up to 10 feet high. Three of those boats were registered in the regatta, which drew around 150 entries. Two mariners are confirmed dead and four others are still missing, not all of whom were racing.

Video by Joshua Edwards

Much like San Francisco Bay’s annual 20-mile Great Vallejo Race, the 18-mile Dauphin Island Race is one-directional, beginning in northern Mobile Bay and ending at Dauphin Island Bridge, which connects a narrow causeway to Dauphin Island, a barrier island lying four miles off the mainland. Many boats typically raft up and overnight there, prior to a return race on Sunday.

Randy Rutledge and Rhonda Gilreath were approaching the finish line in their 23-ft sloop when the storm struck, capsizing and sinking their boat. "It was just unbelievable how high the waves were," said Gilreath said. They thought they would drown, but they were eventually rescued after two hours in the water.

This is one instance where race organizers might take comfort that their fleet size has shrunk. Prior to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Dauphin Island Race used to draw more than 300 entries, and was once the largest point-to-point race in the country — a status that the Vallejo Race also once held.

Although this event is far beyond our normal ‘beat,’ we thought it important to bring this to your attention, if for no other reason than to serve as yet another reminder to have your emergency procedures well practiced — including reefing in a hurry. 

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