More than 150 people gathered at the on Tuesday to celebrate the lives of four men who died while sailing in the annual Lexus Newport Beach to Ensenada Yacht Race at the end of April.
With warm sunshine and blue skies above, family and friends remembered skipper Theo Mavromatis of Redondo Beach and crewmen Kevin Rudolph of Manhattan Beach, Bill Johnson of Torrance and Joe Stewart of Bradenton, Fla. Three of the men’s bodies were found, along with pieces of Mavromatis’ 37-foot sailboat, the Aegean, in a debris field near the Coronado Islands in Mexico. Mavromatis’ body was found a week later.
A fifth crewman, Mike Patton, opted out of the race at the last minute because his mother wasn’t well. He and Mavromatis’ daughter Anna spoke at Tuesday’s service.
With tears on the brink, Patton stood at the podium a bell was rung for each of the deceased sailors. "Ringing of the bells is a traditional sailing sounding of souls," he said, later adding, "I believe these guys would really respect this and cherish this."
Throughout the memorial, attendees consistently spoke of the adventurous spirit of the four men and their resilience, the attraction of the ocean, and the broader significance of sailing.
“All four men won first place in the Newport to Ensenada sailing race last year, and even after winning, with the Aegean placing almost every time it raced, they still weren’t satisfied,” Anna Mavromati said in her tribute. “They still wouldn’t rest. They were always ready to raise the sails and set out on this adventure again.
“They were brave, and they were tenacious, and I can’t think of any better way to live life than they did.”
- Complete coverage: Aegean Yacht Crash
Mavromatis, 49, discovered his love of sailing at the age of 10 in Greece, when he joined a sailing club, his sister Rallou Mavromati-Rice, 48, told the crowd. By the age of 12, he’d built a catamaran that he and his sister sailed every summer until she left for college at 18.
“His wife and his kids were his life,” Mavromati-Rice said. “He lit up every time he shared every accomplishment of his kids with me very, very often. I know he’s at peace wherever he is, and we need to do the same for ourselves and move on. That’s what he would have wanted. I actually had a conversation with him about this; I’m glad I did.
“Please live your life the way he did. He enjoyed every minute of it. Do the same.”
Attendees remembered Rudolph, 53, as a musician and innovator who was “both infectious and brilliant.”
“To me, it was entirely obvious—the light and energy he brought with him wherever he went … I actually shed many tears after hearing of Kevin’s accident, even though I only knew him for about a year,” said Manhattan Beach resident Kelly Dodds, who said he worked with Rudolph at Raytheon over the past year. “I just felt like the world lost a rare beacon of light—one of those people who really makes the world a better place. Even more rare was his innate instinct to draw out the best in people and create opportunity for them, in an almost effortless and (unperceivable) way, make them human beings.”
Dodds continued, “So now, etched in my my mind forever, when I think of the word innovation, and the rare combination of attitude and inspiration and personal aura that fosters that creative spark within people, I’ll always think of Kevin and his wry smile standing in my office door at Raytheon.”
Johnson, 57, also worked with Mavromatis and Rudolph at Raytheon. According to his LinkedIn profile, Johnson recently left the aerospace corporation to start his own consulting firm. His website says he was certified as a master scuba diver.
“I never met Bill Johnson, but I will always remember him, too,” Anna Mavromati said at the service. “I’ve stared at his photo now countless times, standing in the middle of the Aegean crew’s group photo after they won their first-place trophy last year. He’s holding a up pirate doll and looks like he’s laughing at it a little bit, but he’s still holding it up like it’s another member of the crew, like he’s proud.”
Stewart, 64, was Mavromatis’ brother-in-law. A retired USDA customs inspector and Vietnam veteran, “he had the same sense of humor” as Mavromatis, Mavromati said after the service. She described the pair as “characters in a buddy comedy.”
Others who shared memories of the crew at the service included Jesse McCann of Redondo Beach, Carol Tatsumi of Torrance, Talitha Sherman of Torrance, and Niki Burgan of Calabasas, who continued to look for Mavromatis after the U.S. Coast Guard called off its search.
Though some of the speakers said they only knew one of the crewmen or became acquainted with the men’s relatives after the crash, Mavromatis’ other sister, Katerina Mavromati, 42, said the crowd was evidence of the impact the men had on those around them.
“It takes a man like Theo and his crew to bring so many people together today under a tragedy and connect us all in remembering them,” she said. “You’re all wonderful, and on behalf of my family, we thank you deeply for being here today.”
Both the Coast Guard and the U.S. Sailing Association are conducting investigations into the crash.
Editor Nicole Mooradian contributed to this report.