Dauphin Island Race Disaster: Storm Takes Lives of Six Racing Sailors on Mobile Bay

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A video shot by a competitor at the height of the storm captured its intensity

A video shot by a competitor at the height of the storm captured its intensity

Tragedy rocked Alabama’s Dauphin Island Race on April 25, when a massive storm cell barreled across the racecourse, capsizing vessels and throwing boaters—both racing sailors and other recreational mariners—into the water. Nine boats were capsized or sunk, three of them racing sailboats, and six lives were lost—all of them regatta participants.

This anual 18-mile race out of the Fairhope Yacht Club, near Mobile, Alabama, is contested by sailors aboard a wide range of vessels, from beach-launched Hobie 16s to Olson 40s, with an emphasis on keelboats in the 20ft range. This year’s event drew 117 boats and 476 sailors, many of whom hailed from local Mobile Bay-area clubs.

Fifty-knot winds quickly kicked up 10ft seas that roiled the racecourse at roughly 1630. According to reports, the storm was the result of a strong atmospheric disturbance that blew in from Texas and Louisiana on Saturday morning and then collided with some highly unstable weather along coastal Alabama. A thunderstorm advisory had been issued on Saturday morning for all of southern Alabama, and longer-range reports had also predicted the possibility of thunderstorms. However, weather of this severity is reportedly an anomaly on Mobile Bay during the spring months.

A radar image of the storm bearing down on Mobile Bay

A radar image of the storm bearing down on Mobile Bay

While the big conditions indiscriminately swept both raceboats and recreational mariners alike, Robert Delaney’s None9, a Cal-24 III that was participating in the race, was especially hard hit. The crew lost three sailors, including 72-year-old Delaney, 27-year-old Kris Beall and 50-year-old Robert Thomas. Glenn Massey (67), who was racing aboard Dauntless, Adam Clark (17) and Jimmie Charles “J.C.” Brown (71), were also lost to the storm.

According to reports, the race’s start was postponed 90 minutes due to a miscommunication on the Fairhope Yacht Club’s website, which erroneously stated that the race had been cancelled. In an effort to ensure that all participants could make it to the starting line on time, the race committee agreed to postpone racing. Tragically, this gesture of fairness possibly helped contribute to more raceboats being on the course when the storm struck.

Deadly Races of Years Past

2012

Full Crew Farallones Race

Five sailors are lost when the Sydney 38 Low Speed Chase runs aground in heavy seas

2011

Chicago to Mackinac Race

Two sailors, including the skipper, die when the lightweight sloop WingNuts capsizes during a violent squall in the Northern Great Lakes

1998

Sydney to Hobart Race

An unusually strong depression packing 70-knot winds sinks five boats and kills six sailors as the 115-boat fleet is crossing the notoriously rough Bass Strait

1979

Fastnet Race

Twenty-three boats are abandoned, five of which ultimately sink, and 15 sailors die when the 303-boat fleet is struck by an unseasonably severe depression in the Irish Sea

1951

Wellington to Lyttelton

Two boats and 10 sailors are lost when the 19-boat fleet encounters a major storm off New Zealand’s South Island

1905

Transatlantic Race

Six of the crew aboard the schooner Fleetwing are lost overboard in a gale during the same race in which the schooner Atlantic established its longstanding transatlantic record of 12 days 4 hours

Image from YouTube video by Joshua Edwards

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