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SPECIAL REPORT: USCG Cancels Ocean Races

In an unprecedented move, Captain Cindy Stowe, USCG Captain of the Port for Sector San Francisco, has temporarily suspended all marine event permits for offshore races in the wake of April 14’s Full Crew Farallones Race tragedy in which five sailors perished. According to Laura Muñoz, executive director of the YRA, Stowe plans to bring in US Sailing to determine if safety regulations for offshore races need to be changed. The investigation, which is expected to be announced by the Coast Guard later today, should take about a month, which means this weekend’s OYRA Duxship Race and May 12’s Singlehanded Farallones Race will be affected. "She hopes to have it completed by Spinnaker Cup on May 25," Muñoz said.

Muñoz was surprised by last night’s call from Stowe. "Honestly, I was blindsided. On Tuesday we had a very productive, three-hour meeting with the Waterways Division of the Coast Guard, the department that oversees our offshore permits. We left the meeting feeling there were no problems with the Duxship this weekend." As it stands, the YRA is frantically trying to determine if they should just cancel the race altogether or run an alternate version, which would allow racers to go as far as Mile Rock before turning back to the Bay. "It’s hard to put together a race in 48 hours," Muñoz said.

UPDATE: OYRA Director Jim Quanci just sent us the following note: "We will have an ocean race this Saturday. The sole ocean mark will be the Bonita Channel Buoy – sticking our nose back out into the ocean and then back to the Bay, finishing at Encinal YC – which the Coast Guard has ‘just’ approved. There will also be some sort of social activity after the finish, likely along the lines of a pot luck.

"The OYRA board believes a gathering of ocean sailors – many of whom were out there two weeks ago – is a good thing.  With maybe a toast or two to our lost comrades. The last thing the folks on Low Speed Chase (alive and deceased) would want us to do is not go sailing."

Never before has the Coast Guard canceled permits after an ocean tragedy — not after the infamous 1982 Doublehanded Farallones, in which four racers died; not after 2008’s Doublehanded Lightship in which two men aboard Daisy died; not after the J/80 Heatwave lost her keel in 2009’s Doublehanded Farallones, leaving two men clinging to the hull until they were rescued. The action is especially puzzling this time around, considering an independent investigation by the SFPD determined that there was no evidence of negligence.

Undoubtedly many sailors are wondering why they shouldn’t just get together for a nice long daysail out to Duxbury Reef this Saturday, coincidentally leaving around the time the race would have started. "We would need to not know about that," noted Muñoz, explaining that the YRA can’t run a race that doesn’t have a permit. We would suggest that everyone take a deep breath before getting too riled up over the situation.

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