New Orleans Sailors Recount The Dauphin Island Race Disaster

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A pair of New Orleans sailors who survived a deadly sailboat race on Mobile Bay last month relive the scary moments on the water.

Five people died when an April 27 storm tossed and turned more than 100 boats.

"It was a day not too different from today," said Ryan Bancroft, who is a veteran of the annual Dauphin Island boat race. But this time was different.

"As we motored out of the channel to the harbor, it was obvious we would get hit by bad weather," Bancroft said.

The race from the middle of Mobile Bay wound up being one of the worst Gulf Coast sailing tragedies many can remember.

"It went from very little breeze to 65 knots almost instantly," Bancroft said.

Bancroft was one of the few New Orleanians to make the race. He had an experienced 10-person crew on board his 32-foot racer called Defiance.

"It came out of nowhere. I looked up and all the boats were keeled over, and I said oh wow," said crewmember Rachel Kaiser.

Defiance was a lead boat.

"We were coming in under the Dauphin Island Bridge and I heard the wind whistle, and I turned to Ryan, and I never heard it whistle like that in the sails," Kaiser said.

Bancroft feared for the boats behind him, many of them smaller and with less-experienced crews.

"I knelt down and held on to the tiller just trying to keep it straight," Kaiser said.

The Dauphin Island race was a day much like today on a body of water much like Lake Pontchartrain. It started out partly cloudy, and then the storm blew in, making for hellish conditions for dozens of boaters.

"I had my sister on and she was pregnant, and I was worried about her," Kaiser said.

As the winds howled, Bancroft raced to the first slip he could find and damaged his boat.

"The boat bounced up and down on the bottom with the keel and the rudder," he said.

While his crew survived, others drowned, and Bancroft believes rules will change as a result of the disaster. He believes life jackets will be mandatory and skippers will have to furnish crew lists.

"One of the big problems after the storm, nobody knew who was on what boat," Bancroft said.

More than 110 boats and 400 people took part in the race. Eight boats were sunk or badly damaged by the storm.

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