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27 May 2002, 10:26 am
Tragedy at Block Island Race Week
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Jamie Boeckel Lost Overboard
Long Island Sound

Jamie Boeckel, 31, of Newport, RI, boat captain of the 66-foot ocean racing sloop Blue Yankee, is missing in Long Island Sound and presumed dead after he was swept overboard on Saturday night during the Storm Trysail Club's Block Island Race.
Boeckel was thrown from the bow when the spinnaker pole broke off Fairfield, CT, while the 16-man crew was making a routine sail change to a smaller running spinnaker. It was 8:37 PM and just after dark. At the time, northwesterly winds were gusting over 25 knots following the passage of a cold front.

Brock Callen, another professional sailor on the boat, took off his shoes and jacket and jumped in after Boeckel, who was seen floating face down and was apparently unconscious. At the same time, a second crewmember released the boat's man overboard apparatus, consisting of a flotation ring, dan buoy and strobe light. Callen swam the 20 yards to Boeckel and tried to support the unconscious man in the cold 50-degree waters of Long Island Sound. The man overboard gear was nearby, but out of reach and drifting away in the strong winds. The boat got back to Callen within eight minutes, but Boeckel had already slipped from his rescuer's grasp.

Blue Yankee is owned and skippered by Bob Towse, of Stamford, CT, a former commodore of the Storm Trysail Club. Towse is a highly-experienced and long-time ocean racing campaigner who has enjoyed a string of successes with a series of boats with the same name.

At least five other race boats in the vicinity abandoned racing and were joined by 14 other boats in the search for Boeckel. The fleet of rescue vessels included two US Coast Guard 41-footers, and emergency response small craft from towns bordering the Connecticut shore. Helicopters from the Fairfield Police Department and the Connecticut State Police joined in the search.

The Storm Trysail Club dedicated the prize-giving ceremony for the Block Island Race to Boeckel. "The club's officers share Bob Towse's belief that it is better to celebrate Jamie's life and his contributions to sailing by honoring him at the prizegiving, than to cancel it and let the moment go unmarked," said John Osmond, Commodore of the Storm Trysail Club. "We are all sure that Jamie would have wanted it this way."

Manned by a crew of veteran sailors, George Coumantaros' 80-foot maxi-yacht Boomerang demolished the course record for Block Island Race by nearly three hours. Starting on Friday night, the German Frers-designed Boomerang sailed the 185 nautical miles from Stamford, clockwise around Block Island and back to Stamford Harbor entrance in 16 hours, 20 minutes and 50 seconds, at an average speed of 11.3 knots. Boomerang peeled two hours, 53 minutes, 19 seconds off the old record set four years ago by Hasso Plattner's Reichel/Pugh maxi Morning Glory, steered by America's Cup winner Russell Coutts.

After the last of the 86 boats competing in the race finished early on Sunday morning, a calculation of the handicaps showed that Boomerang's fast passage time had also earned her first place in class and first in fleet for International Measurement System [IMS] boats. The overall winner of the 46-boat Performance Handicap Racing Fleet [PHRF] was another big boat, Dietrich Weisman's Alden 63 Sceptre'd Isle. She finished two and a half hours after Boomerang and on corrected time was the handicap winner of Class 5 PHRF and PHRF overall.
Keith Taylor/News Editor
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