A runaway train carrying flammable chemicals de-railed, then ignited, destroying the first boat to finish the past three Port Huron-to-Mackinac Island Sailboat races.
Earth Voyager, a 60-foot racing trimaran, set a record in July when it reached Mackinac Island about 24 hours after it left Port Huron. The damage occurred Dec. 23 when a CSX train derailed after its brakes failed and it hit a curve, Rochester Police Sgt. Carlos Garcia said.
"Unfortunately, the point of impact was a house and several warehouses where boats were stored," he said.
Earth Voyager was among several boats damaged. It's owned by Ray Howe, 59, who built it in his Rochester home in the early 1990s. "It's pretty gruesome," said Mr. Howe's twin brother, Bob, of the damage. "It looks like it got sideswiped, like a car. The back end was torn right off." Ray Howe was driving to Florida when he got a cell- phone call about the accident, his brother said.
The boat, which was featured in the September-October issue of Multihulls magazine, sailed in several races each year, including the Chicago-to-Mackinac Island race. It was 60 feet long, 46 feet wide and had a 90-foot mast.
Rochester Police Capt. Dan McBride said the boat was hit by a flying coal car. One hull and the mast were destroyed. The other two hulls were damaged, but not beyond repair. Harvey Botzman, a friend of the Howes in Rochester, said it will cost about $200,000 to fix the boat's mast.
"A boat like that, it becomes a part of you," he said. "You know everything about it, every little creak."
Sgt. Garcia said CSX is negotiating with those affected by the train derailment. He said they're taking full responsibility for the incident, which has prompted complaints from Rochester firefighters who said they were needlessly placed in harm's way before being told what chemicals were burning.
Most of the cars were loaded with coal, but three contained thousands of gallons of acetone and methylene chloride, police said. The photographic chemicals were headed to Eastman Kodak Co., which is about 4 miles from the accident site.
"It looks like they'll be able to work something out," Bob Howe said, referring to his brother and CSX's insurance carrier. "He's underinsured for the boat, but who would've thought he'd get hit by a train? He thought he'd always be able to sail the Great Lakes."
The boat, which was the biggest trimaran in last year's race, could not win the overall Mackinac race due to speed-based handicaps assigned to it.