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Anchored sailboat sunk by tug and barge

Jan 1, 2003

Coast Guard investigators are testing paint scrapings taken from the bow of a barge in New Orleans in an attempt to find the vessel which ran down an anchored sailboat, Le Bon Risque, and crushed it into the muddy bottom of Mobile Bay on the night of February 9th. A cruising couple aboard the Columbia 29, was killed in the collision.

Investigators have spent long hours reviewing Coast Guard tapes of all radio traffic in the area on the night of the accident. The couple had anchored for the night north of the dredged channel leading west under the Dauphin Island Bridge. This channel is part of the Intracoastal Waterway. "The vessel was spotted and reported by a number of tugs that evening",said the Coast Guard's investigating officer Lt. Cmdr. Richard Wells. "It is the custom here to informally pass that sort of information from tug to tug." Investigators have narrowed the time of the accident to about one hour in the early morning when reports of the anchored sailboat ceased.

Le Bon Risque was anchored in an area that is normally used by commercial vessels as a short cut from Dauphin Island Bridge to the Mobile Bay Channel. It is believed that a commercial vessel taking this route ran down the unsuspecting sailboat.

The sailboat operators were from Florida and apparently unaware of local traffic patterns. Although Le Bon Risque reportedly had an anchor light on, it was anchored three miles from the nearest recognized anchorage. The state of visibility at the time of the accident is uncertain. "The night started clear, although patchy fog later developed in the area", said Wells.

Passing vessels found debris from Le Bon Risque early on the morning of February 10, but it took more than one week to locate the imbedded remains, according to the Coast Guard investigator. Both bodies were removed from the boat by divers, but it proved difficult to extricate the vessel from its muddy tomb about one-quarter mile north of marker at the entrance to the Pass Aux Herons Channel.