Naval Academy sailboat collides with barge, sinks

April 22, 1991|By Peter Hermann

A 60-foot Naval Academy sailboat sank early yesterday after colliding with a coal barge in the Chesapeake Bay, throwing one of 12 crew members overboard and prompting a rescue by tugboat operators.

Midshipman 2nd Class Judy Creed was treated at the Naval Hospital-Patuxent River for hypothermia and released.

The cause of the accident was under investigation by U.S. Coast Guard and Naval Academy officials.

Coast Guard Lt. Gary Merrick said the sailboat, American Promise, may have had some kind of problem with its rigging when it ran into the bow of the 365-foot barge.

According to Lieutenant Merrick, after the collision, the sloop's mast got tangled with a 78-foot tugboat that was towing the barge. The Naval Academy said the sailboat sank four hours after the 2 a.m. accident.

The collision occurred in about 50 feet of water three miles southeast of Cove Point, near the mouth of the Patuxent River, about 50 miles south of Annapolis. "We have no idea of what the exact problem was," Lieutenant Merrick said.

Lt. Ron Turner, duty officer yesterday in the Coast Guard Marine Safety Office in Baltimore, said Midshipman Creed was in the water about 30 minutes before she was pulled to safety by the tugboat crew.

An Academy spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Mike John, said all 12 crew members -- three officers and nine midshipmen -- were taken by boat to the Naval Hospital, but only Ms. Creed required treatment.

Commander John said the crew was on a routine overnight sailing mission and had been scheduled to return sometime yesterday. "They had been out for the evening," he said. "We do overnight training sails frequently."

The spokesman said all the officers and most of the midshipmen had extensive sailing experience and all were qualified to operate the boat.

The American Promise was formerly owned by millionaire Dodge Morgan of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, who sailed the sloop in 1986 on a record-breaking solo voyage around the world.

Mr. Morgan, then 54, cut 142 days from the record, previously set in 1971 by a British paratrooper. A Frenchman broke Mr. Morgan's record two years ago by sailing around the world in 129 days.

Following his trip, Mr. Morgan donated the boat to the Naval Academy. "I was convinced they would put it to good use," he said in an interview last night. "She has carried 150 or more midshipmen on ocean training missions."

Mr. Morgan said the boat, which cost $1.25 million, was built specifically to carry one man nonstop around the world. "It's like losing an old friend," he said. "But she may be back." The Naval Academy said a salvage operation will be undertaken.

The barge, owned by the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., was loaded with 7,500 tons of coal and was being towed from Newport News, Va., to the utility's Brandon Shores Power Station in northern Anne Arundel County.

Art Slusark, a spokesman for BG&E, said no one on the barge or the tugboat Suncoast, owned by the Robert Mann Towing Co. of Chesapeake City, was injured. He said the Coast Guard allowed the tug and barge to continue on their way at 7 a.m., after a preliminary investigation.

Mr. Slusark said that investigation showed the crew on the sailboat was having problems with its mast when it ran into the barge, which was not damaged.

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