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Tragedy strikes the Block Island Race

Jan 1, 2003

Jamie Boeckel was thrown overboard into Long Island Sound when the yacht's carbon-fiber spinnaker pole exploded under a load as he worked the foredeck. The 16-man crew of accomplished sailors was attempting to switch to a smaller chute in the 20- to 25-knot breeze.

According to Keith Taylor, spokesman for the Storm Trysail Club, the boat broached in the 2- to 3-foot seas, rounded up and then broached again on a gust. The pole was forward and possibly against the headstay when it broke. Fellow crewmembers saw Boeckel drift alongside the boat, face down and possibly unconscious.

Brock Callen, another crewman, immediately jumped in the water in an attempt to rescue Boeckel. Another crewmember deployed man-overboard gear: a floatation ring, dan buoy and a strobe light. Unfortunately, the stiff wind and current carried the gear out of Callen's reach as he tried to keep the unconscious man's head above water.

The breeze was now blowing 30 knots. It took the crew about eight minutes to douse the chutes and get back to Callen. By the time the yacht was alongside Callen, he had lost his grip on Boeckel.

Nearby racers were joined by the Coast Guard, the Connecticut State Police and members of the Fairfield Police Department in the search for Boeckel. Police divers are also searching nearby beaches.

The Stamford-based yacht is owned by Bob Towse, former commodore of the Storm Trysail Club. Towse is known for being a very careful sailor. He initiated the club's Junior Safety at Sea Program and insisted on pre-race safety and man-overboard drills for his crews. Wind and sea conditions hampered the sailors' rescue efforts, despite their expert handling of the situation.

The club had originally planned to cancel their awards ceremony, but after consulting with Towse, John Osmond, current commodore of the club, and the other officers, they decided to go ahead with it, dedicating the race in memory of Jamie Boeckel.

According to a statement by the club, "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. We are all sure that Jamie would have wanted it this way."