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Surviving Sailors Wonder How the Crash Happened

March 30, 2005 – The bottom line for all parties involved in a sailboat collision Saturday is "Thank God, nobody was hurt."
Spencer Dickey, owner of the Happy Hour catamaran which rescued Brian and Brianna Ostrander, said Wednesday, "It was totally terrifying. After seeing the wreckage, I'm surprised nobody was killed or seriously hurt." Dickey was in constant cell phone contact Saturday with his captain, Doug Metzger, as the rescue was taking place.
Days after the brush with a watery demise, Brian Ostrander thanked his lucky stars that he and his daughter were rescued shortly after being stranded at sea.
Ostrander and his 16-year-old daughter, Brianna, were sailing in the Rolex Regatta, hanging out in the trapeze of their catamaran, A Cat Named Frankenstein. On a catamaran a trapeze holds a person, like a swing seat, outside the boat to keep the mast upright. They were sailing about a half-mile out from Green Cay when Ostrander, who was on starboard tack, said he saw a sailboat, later identified as the 45-foot cutter Island Girl, coming toward them on a port tack. The Island Girl is captained by Michael Stanton.
Ostrander described the incident: "We were sailing on a starboard tack, when we saw the boat coming toward us on a port tack. It appeared they were watching us, and, as we got closer, we looked for them to make a course correction. When we were close enough, we hollered 'starboard,' because we had the right of way. We held our course, as required, and they held theirs."
Appearing still incredulous over the incident, Ostrander said, "It appeared they saw us. We were sailing and fighting waves and keeping in the direction we were moving in. It's hard to say if they saw us or not. When they hit us, our rigging collapsed, and we went into the wet, and when the rigging collapsed we were still hooked into the trapeze.
"My daughter was screaming that she was being sucked under, and I began to get pulled under, too. I tried to unhook her, and I hollered for the boat to stop, and we were drug along for what seemed like an eternity, until I finally I got us out of the trapeze. One of the persons on the other boat yelled, 'where's your boat?,' and I yelled back 'under your boat'.
"Once we were able to get a look, we tried to swim to the dinghy they were pulling, and they just sailed off. They left us for shark bait. I really don't know how long we were in the water when a dinghy came up from out of nowhere and took us to a charter boat, the Happy Hour."
Ostrander said he didn't even know the name of his rescuer in the dinghy. "I don't think we even spoke, apart from saying 'thank you'," he said. "I couldn't tell you what he looked like. The people on the Happy Hour, Capt. Doug and mate Ivy, were just tremendous. They let us use the radio and we contacted the race committee. They sent a boat to pick us up, and took us back to the yacht club."
Lt. j.g Eric Willis, Coast Guard spokesman, said Wednesday that the incident is still under investigation. Speaking from his San Juan office, Willis said Stanton filed a report of the incident with the USCG on Saturday. He said the Marine Safety Detachment on St. Thomas didn't receive word of the incident Saturday, until all aboard were reported as safe.
Metzger, captain of rescue boat Happy Hour, recalled his experience."We were right there. There's six of us charter boats that sail together, and the Island Girl is one of them. We were on our way to Buck Island to snorkel.
"This was an unfortunate incident," Metzger said, "an isolated incident. The reason I came on the scene was that I didn't have a mainsail up, so I could hold my boat in position more easily. Miss K was right nearby, too, so Shay, their first mate, picked up the Ostrander in their dinghy, and brought them to us a few seconds after it happened. They were pretty stunned, and he had to reach their harnesses and flip them on board our boat.
"We asked if they were OK, and what we could do for them. Brian said, 'can you radio that green boat and tell them we're OK'. I think he must have been in total shock, or else he's really a good sport about things," Metzger said. "Brian's attitude was generous and kind.
"We called the Island Girl and let them know everybody was OK, then we called the race committee and located a tugboat to haul the wreckage away," Metzger said. " I stayed on the wreck on location so nobody else would run into it. My guests on board were boaters so they were OK with what was going on."
Metzger, who has been sailing since he was 10 years old, said Saturday was a "very incredible" day. "I do this six days a week, 10 hours a day," he said, "and the whole day was just weird, culminating in this accident. It was weird circumstances – the equivalent of putting on your sneakers, and running across I-95."
"There were halyards snapping, sails blowing out. You had to pay a whole lot of attention," Metzger said. "I think the idea of having the regatta come right into the harbor is a good thing; to bring the sailboats to the people to see. It's an exciting concept. I don't think it was the race course – accidents just happen."
Metzer said he understood the reasoning of Stanton. "He had to keep moving," Metzger said. "The bottom line is he wasn't trying to get away with something. He understood the situation to be covered. It was a horrible accident. There's just an eggshell between us and death."
"We all work together; we are all friends," Metzger said. "Sometimes there's a medical emergency or a horrible accident like this. It's not about good guys and bad guys."
The USCG investigates all marine mishaps involving commercial vessels. The Island Girl is a charter boat. Willis said, "General marine law states that if somebody needs assistance and you can render assistance without putting your passengers in jeopardy, you should do so.
"As to the particulars of who is at fault," Willis said, "we are still correcting the information. It's premature to say anything now. The facts are still coming in. We have a 45-foot vessel colliding with a 19-foot catamaran, and the location of the collision. We haven't even gotten both sides of the story yet. We have received no official statements yet, though they were quick to talk to the media." Ostrander said later in the day that he had spoken with the St. Thomas USCG on Wednesday morning.
Willis praised the public for its help in assisting the Coast Guard. "The USCG has 38,000 active duty members to cover 95,000 miles of coastline. We have fewer members than the New York City Police Department," he said.
"There's no way we can do what we do without people helping at sea. V. I. Radio is a volunteer organization that's a great example. We don't get immediate reports of kite-surfers who are assisted by other mariners, for instance."
Willis said, "Stanton thought he did what he was required to do. The part about rendering assistance at sea is part of the investigation. We have 300 commercial operators in the Virgin Islands," he said. "It's a matter of priorities."
However, Willis emphasized, "I can't say when this investigation will be completed, but it will be completed and there will be a conclusion."
Wally Bostwick, public relation spokesperson for the Regatta, said in his memory there has never been a collision between a race boat and a commercial boat during the Regatta.
The Source was unable to contact Stanton Wednesday.
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