Sudden Turn Page 2

One beautiful, sunny July day I was sailing Rondo, my Beneteau 423, about a mile off the famed Santa Monica pier in picturesque Santa Monica Bay, California. The wind was blowing gently at around 8 knots, and I was reaching along on port tack making about 5 knots. It was a typical Southern California day with a typical Southern California breeze. Suddenly, at a distance of about 300 yards, I saw
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I filed a formal supplement, complete with supporting photos, to the official accident report, which had found that since I had taken no action to avoid the accident, my vision must have been obscured and therefore both boats were equally at fault. That finding, of course, was a nice ending for the powerboat operator. But for me, a beautiful afternoon sail had turned into something far different.

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After reading this I went back to the sheriff’s office and found the deputy who had filed the report. I asked him if he knew anything about how sailboats work, and he candidly said that he did not. I explained to him that my boom is seven feet above the cockpit sole, and the foot of my genoa is cut well above the lifelines so that the clew of the sail cannot obscure my vision. I offered to take the deputy out for a sail to show him what I was talking about, but he politely declined.

When I asked why the deputies on duty at the time had accepted the operator’s statement as true, I was unable to get a clear answer. It was the same thing when I asked how, if there were three men on deck aboard the powerboat, they could possibly have not seen a 42-foot sailboat with a 57-foot mast and nearly 1,000 square feet of sail on a clear, bright and sunny day. And so it went.

It seemed to me I was talking to non-sailors who were more interested in fast closure and less paperwork than in discovering the truth. For example, when I said I first saw the powerboat a couple of hundred yards ahead of me, approaching at an angle that would take them from my starboard side to my port side, that somehow made it into the report as a statement that I saw the powerboat approaching my starboard side amidships. That was not the case, and I never said so.

When I asked, “Well, if that is what you believe, how can you also believe the operator’s statement that I hit them amidships?” After all, both things can’t have happened at once. It soon became clear to me that no matter how wrong and incomplete the report was, changing it would not only require more paperwork, but also indicate the investigation had not been thoroughly performed. This was especially true of my damaged bow roller. If the powerboat had been dead in the water, as they had claimed, and if I had hit them broadside, my anchor and bow roller should have been bent straight back, rather than being smashed to port at a 90-degree angle.

Thinking back on it now, it seems clear that when I saw the three men come up on deck and start talking among themselves after the collision, they were already fabricating an explanation that would put the blame on me.

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