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On his way back from a morning daysail, Alex Mehran of the Open 50 Truth took this photo of California Condor about a third of the way to the islands. ©2012 Alex Mehran
OYRA Farallones Follow-up
April 16, 2012
We received several letters in response to this weekend's special report, The Loss of Low Speed Chase.
From Jim Quanci, Cal 40, Green Buffalo:
We were there – but there was no standing by in the strong wind (23-28 knots), big seas (10-12 feet pumping up to near 20 feet as they neared the rocks), and occasional breaking waves further out. No safe place to stand by.
Not unusual for the Farallones in the spring.
It was unusual that we saw them at all as they were well inside the breakers. Had our friendly Pacific Cup radio master Michael Moradzadeh on the boat – so he called it in to the Coast Guard. It was very clear from the time we first spotted them that the boat wasn't going to get out, no boat could get in (not even a Coastie 40-footer made to cross surf lines), and only a helicopter would be of any help.
We never saw a person – just saw the mast and partially down flogging main – the rest of the boat was lost in the waves and surf (it took us about an hour to deduce which boat it likely was).
It would be very easy to miss seeing them in the surf – all the race crews wrestling with the wind, waves, boat, cold and seasickness. And reaching the Coast Guard by VHF from the Farallones is a stretch too – anything less then a masthead VHF antenna wouldn't have worked.
Prayers for the families and survivors...
From Greg Nelsen, Azzura 310, Outsider:
We were not sure what boat we saw dismasted at the time. We turned back after reaching the main shipping channel G7 buoy. Everything was fine aboard Outsider. We had a #4 jib up and a deep reef in the mainsail. It was just one of those gut feelings to turn back. Some apartment building-sized waves were passing through as the ebb was certainly feeding the northwest swell.
From Miles Gerety:
The tragic losses on Low Speed Chase would have been averted had the crew all been wearing their harnesses. I lost a childhood friend 15 years ago when he was knocked off a boat by the boom in the Key West Race, again not wearing a harness. Billy Cargill's body was never found.
Low Speed Chase had an open transom, no stern pulpit, a shallow cockpit, minimal lifelines and no or minimal toe rails – all of which make an unharnessed crew vulnerable in heavy weather. Had all the crew clipped on, some may have suffered bruises and even fractures, but all probably would have lived. Clipping on to jacklines and strong points soon becomes second nature.
Yes, a harness can kill you if a boat turtles and remains upside down. However, falling off your boat is by far the most common way to die at sea.
From Buzz Blackett, Antrim Class 40, California Condor, originally written to his crew:
I know we all share grief over the tragedy that struck when Low Speed Chase went on the rocks at the Farallones. If there's a memorial fund set up, I hope all of us will contribute. I'm also pleased that everyone on our team donned their harnesses and clipped in. Those waves were big!
We sailed back with the main in its semi-reefed position until Liz coaxed the head car to unlock. We even put the A-7 up for a bit of a thrill. (We were going very well at the time the line parted – ahead of the fleet and stretching on everyone.)