Although officials say it will be weeks before their investigation determines the cause of this week's sailboat capsize in San Diego Bay and subsequent two fatalities, two theories have become prominent. Not surprisingly, each theory makes the person espousing it look better. Roger MacGregor, head of the company that built the MacGregor 26 that capsized, believes the boat was overloaded with 10 people aboard and wonders if the water ballast tank was full (as required to provide stability). George Saidah, founder of the nonprofit organization and apparent captain of the boat, says the boat was knocked over by a wind gust that caught the jib.
Either theory could be correct, but my guess is it's a combination of both. Given enough wind, virtually any monohull sailboat can be knocked over, at least temporarily, spilling crew and passengers into the water if they're not tethered in. In a light-displacement boat like the MacGregor 26, this is more likely if crew weight is not appropriately distributed with more weight to windward to counteract the heeling force of the wind. I have sailed a MacGregor 26 myself in 30 knots and had no problem. The MacGregor website has a video of the boat in gale winds and high waves doing just fine. With less ballast than most fixed-keel sailboats, however, the MacGregor 26 is less forgiving of mistakes. On the other hand, I was surprised to read MacGregor's statement that this older model 26 lacked stated specifications limiting crew weight or number. The MacGregor site includes the manual for the current 26 model, which clearly states on page 1 a limit of "6 persons, 960 pounds" - and less if the ballast tank is not full. This suggests the San Diego boat was likely overloaded. But the wind gust obviously was also a factor, especially if the captain could not release the jibsheet or head up the boat quickly enough.
This was a terrible tragedy involving two deaths, and while the investigation results will be important to help prevent similar situations in the future, the fact will always remain that sailing is an intrinsically dangerous activity. Everyone who goes out on the water needs to accept that and practice boating safety principles.