Along with the rest of the world, San Francisco’s sailors are deep in mourning for the death of one and presumed loss of the four other sailors washed overboard during last weekend’s Crewed Farallones Race. We encourage you to check in on the thread to share your thoughts, and take a minute to check out this touching statement from the San Francisco Giants about one of the lost – Alexis Busch, Major League Baseball’s first ever bat girl, pictured below. Also, people who work the water and air in the area are looking for any signs of personal gear on the water and beaches from Pt. Reyes to South of Ano Nuevo. If you find anything, please call USCG Alameda or local law enforcement.
Our thoughts are with you all. Bay Area racer Ronnie Simpson sent in the complete story thus far:
This weekend’s tragedy at the Farallones is one which has shaken the San Francisco yachting establishment to it’s core. On a week where the entire Bay Area seemed to be celebrating the very existence of the sport that we all love, this party atmosphere has been replaced by heavy hearts and utter disbelief. In addition to the Full-Crew Farallones race, Bay Area sailors sent off a round-the-world racing fleet, welcomed the West Coast’s largest all-sailboat show, continued an annual tradition in the Bullship race and had two AC45 catamarans competing in Italy; an event which garnered international television coverage. Now grieving and in shock, this tight-knit and extremely active local sailing community is coping with the tragic loss of five local sailors: one confirmed dead and four still missing. The loss occurred after the Sydney 38 Low Speed Chase was forced aground into the West side of the Farallon Islands while trying to rescue four crew members who had been washed overboard by a wave. Slammed into the island, the 38-footer was in immediate trouble.
The wreck was first reported by the veteran crew of the Cal 40 Green Buffalo. Experienced Pacific Cup radio operator Mike Morazedah immediately went down below and established radio contact with the Coast Guard on Channel 16, relating what helmsman Jim Quanci was seeing. Quanci steered from the low-side, gauging Green Buffalo’s distance to the island. “All that I could see was a boat and mast caught up inside of the breakers. They had been pushed in close, way past the point of no return. It was extremely difficult to see in the waves and whitewash and we could not identify which boat it was at the time.” Quanci states that breeze was in the mid-to-upper 20’s with a fairly common-for-the-area 10-foot Northwesterly swell. “The day wasn’t atypical for the Gulf of the Farallones, but there were still a few breaking waves of 15-20 feet on the windward side of the island.” As Green Buffalo performed their seamanlike duty of reporting the incident and rendering aid, they were unaware at the time of the conditions involving the four crew members that had originally been washed overboard and why Low Speed Chase had gotten as close as it had to the island.
In interviewing crew members from multiple boats that were on the course in the vicinity of Low Speed Chase, it does not appear that a mistake was necessarily made in sailing too close to the island. The fact is that Low Speed Chase was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time as a massive breaking wave caused the boat to “pitch pole”, effectively ejecting half of the crew. Even when “clipping in” and using tethers and jack lines, it’s highly unlikely that crew seated on the rail would have been clipped in at all times. Once the four crew members were washed overboard, the remaining crew onboard heroically attempted to maintain control of the boat and rescue their crew members when they were pounded by another massive wave that forced the boat well into the breaking surf, ejecting all crew but one. From that point forward, as Quanci has related “they were in way to deep and there was no way they were going to get out of there.” The boat was reported to be rolled multiple times as it was violently slammed into the island.
At approximately 1500 hours, and at the same time that Green Buffalo was standing off to communicate to the Coast Guard, the Coast Guard claims to have received a single EPIRB signal. They do not state that they received any Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) signals. Immediately launching a search and rescue effort, multiple Coast Guard assets were deployed including an MH-65 helicopter, a 47 life-boat and an 87-foot cutter. Searching for more than 30 hours, multiple Army National Guard Black hawk helicopters joined in the effort, aided by a C-130 and three more Coast Guard cutters. In all, more than 50,000 square miles of ocean were searched. With a well-coordinated effort, the jagged rocky shores of the island were searched, while shore-side searches took place from south of Half Moon Bay to Marin.
At sundown on Sunday, the Coast Guard suspended the search and rescue operation indefinitely claiming that they had searched far past the window of survivability. In all, 3 crew members were rescued, including 41-year old owner James Bradford. Bradford and another crew member were hospitalized and released while the third survivor was treated for a broken leg. 46-year old Mark Kasanin was the only deceased crew member that was recovered while four more crew members remain missing. As reported yesterday on Sailing Anarchy, the four missing crew have been identified as Alan Cahill, Jordan Fromm, Elmer Morissey and Alexis Busch. Owner James Bradford of Chicago had just flown back into town for the race, taking delivery of two brand-new racing sails, a main and jib, less than 24 hours before the start. An experienced sailor with a significant amount of experience on the Sydney 38 and in racing offshore, he had not been sailing the boat much over the winter due to his geographical separation.
A terrible tragedy has occurred and an entire community is in mourning right now. An optimistic, upbeat group of offshore sailors are left scratching their heads, trying in vain to find a silver lining in this whole story; a miraculous story of survival, another daring rescue, or some type of improbable happy ending, but hope is waning thin as we move more than two days after the incident. As a crewed boat skipper and San Francisco-based offshore racer, this tragedy hits especially close to home, as it does for literally hundreds of us here in the Bay Area. After conducting extensive research and investigative journalism, it doesn’t appear that anyone did anything wrong. A handful of sailors got washed overboard in breeze-on conditions by a couple of large set waves and the rest of the crew heroically tried to save them, literally sailing into the “Devil’s Teeth”, to quote the name of the famous Susa Casey novel about the islands. A handful of courageous men and women perished this weekend doing something they loved. And for that, it is with a heavy heart that an entire community moves forward towards two Trans-Pacific races this summer, a slew of inshore and offshore races scheduled and being put on the world’s biggest stage in next year’s America’s Cup.
RIP Low Speed Chase- The vessel and the lost crew members may be gone, but they will never be forgotten. -Ronnie Simpson.