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Double Bullet II capsizes
6 crew rescued by helicopter

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by Rich Roberts

San Diego Ca (July 7 1999) - Six crewmen competing in the Transpacific Yacht Race to Hawai`i were rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter early Wednesday morning when their 76-foot catamaran capsized in 8-10-foot seas 188 miles off the Southern California coast.

Bob Hanel's Double Bullet II from Cabrillo Beach Yacht Club in San Pedro had started the race from the Palos Verdes peninsula 12 hours earlier. Those aboard with Hanel included Randy Smyth, an Olympic silver medalist in 1984 and '92 and five-time winner of the rugged Worrell 1000 catamaran race on the East Coast.

Other crew were Bob Dixon, Mark Hammelman, Milo Hurst and Jason Sneed. Sneed suffered from hypothermia and seasickness. He was treated at UC San Diego Hospital and released, as Hanel tried to organize an effort to salvage his boat.

In the previous race two years ago the same boat was dismasted the first night out.Multihull boats, long questioned as safe on the open sea, have been accepted as official Transpac entries only in the last two races. There was only one other multihull entry this year - the 60-foot trimaran Pacific Challenge owned by Clive Armitage of Eugene, Ore.and it was dismasted off Northern California enroute to Los Angeles. All of the monohull classes started earlier.

The incident occurred at 1 a.m. PDT. According to early information, the boat first tipped over, then rolled upside down where it remained. Hanel was unable to radio for help but activated an Emergency Position Indicator Radio Beacon (EPIRB). The crew crawled inside one of the hulls.

"The EPIRB saved their lives," said Coast Guard Petty Officer Jamie Devitt-Chacon.

The Coast Guard picked up the signal, which is distinctive for every unit and registered for identification.

"[The] Alameda [CG station] sent us back a fax saying it was Double Bullet II," Devitt-Chacon said.

A Jayhawk helicopter and a C-130 spotter plane were dispatched and arrived overhead at 2:30. Hanel was sitting alone on one hull holding the EPIRB, which had a flashing light to guide the helicopter.

A rescue swimmer was dropped into the water to assist the six crew into slings that hoisted them into the helicopter, one by one. All were wearing life jackets. The helicopter arrived back in San Diego at 6:40 a.m.

Smyth phoned his wife Paula in Florida and told her that at the time of the incident the boat was "flying a hull"meaning that one hull was out of the water and the boat was moving at considerable speed in the steep seas.

"Randy said he felt a bump, opened the hatch and looked outside to see the mast going into the water," Paula Smyth said. "He closed the hatch and got back inside with the rest of the crew. Then the boat turtled ([turned upside down]."

Initial efforts to reach Hanel or the crew directly were unsuccessful, and there was no immediate explanation of the capsize.

Another Coast Guard spokesperson, Lt. Cmdr. Brent Lebish, said the crew - all veteran sailors - seemed shaken by the incident but "it was a pretty routine operation for us."

Lebish also said that the range of the Jayhawk is normally limited to 200 miles, 12 more than Double Bullet II's location.

Photos of the starts, e-mail from boats, daily position reports, crew lists and other information are available on the race web page.

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Last Modified: Wednesday - 19990707.12:23 HST
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