Monday, July 23, 2007

Tour Boat Smashes Sailboat At Regatta

Joel Lambinus unfurled the sail on his 14-foot Laser on Sunday and then happened to glance backward. What Lambinus saw made him leap for his life. A Fort Sumter tour boat loaded with tourists was bearing down. "I looked over my shoulder, and I saw the boat, about 75 yards away and headed dead straight for me," said Lambinus, 57, an experienced sailor who was competing in the Charleston Yacht Club Open Regatta. Witnesses told the Coast Guard the tour boat was the 102-foot-long, 32-foot-wide, 97-ton, Spirit of Charleston, and that the vessel was crossing an area reserved for sailboat racing. As Lambinus swam to avoid being pulled under the tour boat, it cracked and broke his sailboat, tearing chunks of it with its propeller. Lambinus said he felt his legs bumping the hull of the tour boat, and he feared the propeller would slice him up, too. "By the grace of God, I was able to get away," he said. "When I popped up, I realized that if I had stayed in the boat I would have been mincemeat." Owners of Fort Sumter Tours could not be reached Sunday for comment. Lambinus had been one of about 40 people in one-person sailboats preparing to compete in the regatta. Instead, he spent much of the day at Medical University Hospital's emergency room.
Spirit of Charleston
"I have bruises and contusions here and there," he said. "I'm beat up, but I'm not going to die." The Coast Guard is investigating the 12:20 p.m. incident. Investigators had no comment. Sylvia Galloway and Fran Trotman, who operated a safety boat at the regatta, witnessed the collision from a few hundred yards away. They said the tour boat did not stop at the scene after the collision, and its operator did not return calls until after returning from Fort Sumter to peninsular Charleston. Galloway said the tour boat "came absolutely straight down the middle" of the nearly one-mile-diameter area near Castle Pinckney reserved for the weekend's races. The tour boat "never slowed down until the sailboat popped out of the back and never hailed either of us to see if the sail boater was OK," she said. Galloway displayed copies of race permits, with restricted areas outlined, approved by the state Department of Natural Resources and the Coast Guard. Lambinus, a construction company owner from West Ashley who holds a captain's license, said he can't stop thinking about what might have happened had he not jumped. "A Laser sits 6 inches above the water, and that boat is four stories tall and 100-something feet long," he said. He recalled hearing a woman aboard the tour boat scream as he hit the water. "I thought, what a hell of a way to die. I'm going to die underneath a tour boat in Charleston. What kind of a way to die is that?"

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