The boat drifted into surf on Friday near San Clemente Island during a two-day sailboat race that goes from Newport Beach to San Diego
It began when the boat's rudder failed. The crew sent a Mayday call, but declined help from other boaters and the Coast Guard. The crew called for a tow boat, but rough seas and strong winds kept the tow boat from coming to their rescue.
Chuck Hope, one of the race organizers, says the crew didn't think they were in immediate danger.
"The crew attempted to launch a life raft and attempted to set two anchors before abandoning the vessel to swim ashore," Hope said.
Conditions worsened and 8-foot swells and strong winds broke the vessel apart. Officials say the crew of six was forced to abandon the 36-foot yacht named "Uncontrollable Urge." Before the accident, the boat's owner posted a picture of the vessel on Twitter, saying it was the first race using the new boat.
A Coast Guard helicopter located the wreckage and crew, but one sailor was unresponsive in the water. One by one, rescuers hoisted the surviving sailors to safety and transported them to a hospital in San Diego.
The sole fatality was 36-year-old Craig Williams, a husband and father of a 2-year-old daughter. They also had a baby on the way. He was a member of the Silver Gate Yacht Club in San Diego. A spokesperson for the club says stormy weather forced two other boats to drop out of the 139-nautical mile race.
The Coast Guard said there were 8-foot swells with 10-knot winds at the time of the incident, and there was a small craft advisory in effect.
There have been similar incidents involving sailing races. Last April, four sailors died when their yacht ran aground on North Coronado Island during the Newport Beach to Ensenada race. That same month, five sailors died 27 miles off the coast of San Francisco during a race when their boat capsized.
The Williams family is asking for assistance to the Craig Williams Family Memorial Fund. Proceeds will help cover memorial costs and any extra funds will be rolled into a college fund for Williams' unborn child. The online fundraising page is being hosted at YouCaring.com.