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April 16, 2012

Search Suspended for Farallones Racers

Boats rounding after Low Speed Chase watched helplessly as heavy shore break pummeled the grounded hull.

© 2012 Rune Storesund

(*Note: several corrections have been made to our original posting, as new info was revealed.)

After more than 30 hours of searching, U.S. Coast Guard and Air National Guard assets suspended their efforts Sunday evening to find four missing crew members from the Sydney 38 Low Speed Chase, which was grounded on a rocky shore of the Farallon Islands around 3 p.m. Saturday during the annual Full Crew Farallones Race.

Roughly 90 minutes after six of the eight-person crew were washed overboard by a huge breaking wave, Coast Guard and Air National Guard helicopter teams rescued the boat’s owner, James Bradford, 41, of Chicago, crew member Bryan Chong, 38, of Tiburon, and Nick Vos of Sonoma, who is in his 20s. In the process of getting to dry land Vos somehow broke his leg. The body of crewman Marc Kasanin, 46, was also airlifted from the scene late Saturday afternoon.

Despite a massive, 15- by 30-mile search and rescue effort that involved three cutters, a 47-ft motor lifeboat, at least three helicopters and at least one C-130 aircraft, the four other crew have not been found, and are now presumed dead. They are: Vos’ girlfriend Alexis Busch of Larkspur, also in her 20s; Jordan Fromm, 25, of Kentfield; Elmer Morrissey of Ireland, who is in his early 30s; and Alan Cahill, 36, of Tiburon.

Shortly after the start off the San Francisco YC’s Crewed Farallones Race, Low Speed Chase was looking good as she passed beneath the Marin Headlands.

© 2012 Peter Lyons / Lyons Imaging

Although all were reportedly wearing lifejackets and heavy weather sailing gear, the "window of survivability," as a Coast Guard spokesman put it, in those frigid waters closed long before the search was suspended.

Not only does this sad incident mark the first racing fatality in San Francisco YC’s 143-year history, but it is one of the worst tragedies in the Bay’s long history of inshore and offshore racing. The 56-mile Full Crew Farallones Race has been run since 1907.

Acting as spokesman for the club, YC board member Ed Lynch explained that as Low Speed Chase was rounding the largest island in the southeast portion of the Farallon cluster, it was hit by a large wave that launched several crewmembers overboard. A second wave reportedly drove the hull onto the foaming lee shore. The vessel’s EPIRB was activated, and almost simultaneously a mayday was called in from Jim Quanci’s Cal 40 Green Buffalo, which was sailing nearby. Quanci and his crew were the first to spot the Sydney 38 in distress, but they had no way to offer assistance in the dangerous conditions: 25- to 30-knot winds and breaking waves at least 10 feet high. Nor did any of the 47 other competitors.

Michael Moradzadeh, who called in the mayday, reports: "Approaching, and then rounding, Southeast Farallon Island from the north at a distance of about a quarter mile, we observed heavy surf on the islands, crashing high and putting on a display of the sea’s power. Aboard Green Buffalo, our skipper noted a ‘sweeping wave,’ originating at about our distance and sweeping toward the south end of the island. He also noticed a white spar, deep in one of the coves, and called our attention to it.

"It took us a few moments to figure out what we were looking at; that it was a mast, and not part of some of the island’s installations, and that the location was, at least under the current surf conditions, apparently inescapable. The mast was not rocking, and appeared to still have its sail up. . . We did not dare approach the vessel any more closely for fear of sharing their fate.

"VHF contact was poor, but our distress call got through and was promptly answered. We did not know which boat it was at this time, and could not answer questions about who was on board. I switched to the race channel and asked other passing boats to report their observations to the Coast Guard as well.  Whirlwind replied with further observations that the boat was on the rocks. . ."

As it becomes clear that nothing short of a miracle could deliver the missing crew to safety, many within the Bay Area sailing community are numb with grief as they digest the severity of this tragedy. Meanwhile, it has become a national news story, inspiring a great deal of Monday morning quarterbacking from both sailors and non-sailors alike about what the stricken crew and rescuers might have or should have done. While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, it appears that many of the loudest voices in such critiques are apparently those of people who know nothing about offshore racing, or the motivations of those who choose to participate in it. So rather than critiquing, we would encourage all who are following this sad story to join us in mourning the loss of our fellow sailors, and offering sincere condolences to their friends and families.

Don Anderson Passes Away

The West Coast sailing community was dealt another blow on Saturday when Don Anderson was discovered dead aboard his Valiant 47 Summer Passage in Oxnard. "Don was known as the weatherman on so many radio nets throughout Mexico and the Pacific," writes Jim Barden of the Santa Rosalia, Mexico-based Morgan Out Island 28 Ann Marie. "His body was found by fellow yacht club members on Saturday but may have died days before, as he hadn’t been heard from for a week. The cause of death is unknown at this time.

"His reports were sporadic and short recently, not at all like the weather reports he’d provided before. I think the years of Don’s weather on the sideband and ham nets should be called ‘The Decade of Don’, for that was about the time span he provided his weather predictions for the many who depended on his reports.
"I was very lucky to be a part of the original Amigo net in 2001. It was there Don discovered his need to provide weather for cruisers. It became much bigger than he ever imagined, covering the sailing routes not only within Mexico, but to the South Pacific and Hawaii, as well as the Baja Bash back to the States. Don had a land-based station, and from his office at the back of his house, he broadcast using a specially-erected tower that utilized a galvanized fence as its ground. Don’s neighbors fought to have his antenna removed until the City of Oxnard honored him with an award for his civic participation.
"Many cruisers didn’t plan their sailing agenda until they heard Don’s weather for their region. I for one appreciated hearing his side information on how weather systems formed and what one would expect if certain situations were to occur. He could be a bit intimidating, but no matter what you can say about Don Anderson, we can all agree he was very knowledgeable and very precise in his predictions for weather throughout frequently sailed areas. He will be missed."

Longtime Mexico cruiser Chuck Houlihan adds, "An email address has been setup for those who wish to send a note to Don’s family. It would mean a lot to his family to hear how much he meant to the cruisers he helped throughout the years."

And Bill Knutson notes that a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on April 27 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Ventura. "Don was not only a great friend to cruisers, he was a stalwart churchman who gave St. Paul’s and the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles countless hours of generous and energetic service. His ‘brothers’ there are preparing a tri-tip barbecue in his honor that will follow the service."

Medical & Nutrition Seminar

The Singlehanded TransPac prep seminar series continues on Wednesday at Oakland YC with a Medical & Provisioning seminar. Dr. Mike Weaver will start the presentation by going over the contents of a well-outfitted medical kit, and some first aid tips for singlehanders. "Some very common first aid advice doesn’t really apply when you’re alone, so Dr. Mike will offer some alternatives," notes Race Chair Rob Tryon.

Immediately following Dr. Mike, yours truly will provide nutrition information and tips on provisioning to win. After spending thousands on the latest, greatest and lightest gear to improve their performance, many racers fail to adequately take care of the most important piece of equipment on their boat: themselves. As much as they might think differently, anyone who singlehands to Hawaii is an athlete, and should know just what foods will help improve their endurance and performance.

We promise not to offer any of these items as samples for Wednesday’s provisioning seminar.

© Nick Jaffe

The seminar will start around 7:30 p.m., immediately following the Corinthian Race Awards meeting, which will start early — around 6:30 p.m. — to accommodate both events. As usual, the event is free and open to the public — Pacific Cup racers are especially welcome — and, in addition to the no-host bar, rumor has it there will be samples during the provisioning talk.

Wounded Vet Sailing Clinic

No one can argue that Ronnie Simpson isn’t a passionate man. At 27, the retired Marine has seen and done more in his life than the next 10 sailors combined. After receiving life-threatening injuries from an RPG attack during his first tour of duty in Iraq, Simpson has spent the last eight years living every day as if it was a gift. And now he’s working to give that to other wounded vets.

Simpson entered the 2010 Singlehanded TransPac with the help of Hope for the Warriors, a national organization that supports wounded vets and their families. Sailing on fellow Marine and race vet Don Gray’s Jutson 30 Warrior’s Wish, Simpson may not have won, but he fulfilled his long-held dream of sailing solo to Hawaii, and that experience fueled his desire to help others reach their goals regardless of their injuries.

Hope for the Warriors helped Ronnie Simpson achieve his dream of sailing to Hawaii in the 2010 Singlehanded TransPac.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Once again sponsored by Hope for the Warriors, Simpson will be racing this summer’s running of the Singlhanded TransPac in his Moore 24 US 101. And while his accomplishments may help raise awareness of the organization, Simpson wanted to do more, so he organized a series of clinics to introduce wounded soldiers to the joys of sailing. "We have three men and two women with varying injuries flying in from all over the country this week to take part in the clinic," he said. "Initially I just really wanted to do something to help raise money for a very good cause, but the more I hear their stories, the more personal it’s become."

The first clinic starts this Wednesday at Spinnaker Sailing and runs through South Beach YC’s Friday night Beer Can race. "We’d love to get lots of boats out for the race to show their support," Simpson said. Vets will have the chance to sail on a variety of boats, from the Bay Area Association of Disabled Sailors’ specially designed Access Dinghies to a sunset cruise aboard the 84-ft steel schooner Bay Lady. "I just want to show them that they can still do extraordinary things," says Simpson.

Now he wants to give back to other wounded vets by raising awareness and money for the organization that helped him.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Simpson plans to offer a clinic in Seattle in September and another in San Francisco in October. Though the clinics are private, there are a number of ways for the public to support the cause. "We’re taking the vets to a Giants game on Wednesday night so folks could contribute by ‘buying’ a vet’s ticket for $50," Simpson noted. "Or they could buy a $50 ticket for the Bay Lady sunset cruise on Thursday and join the vets in celebrating their second day of sailing." Of course, donations in any amount will be gratefully accepted. Email Simpson for instructions on donating.

Aboard a Coast Guard helicopter, an overhead camera captures the airlift of one of three sailors rescued from the grounding of Low Speed Chase yesterday afternoon.