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US Sailing Report: Competitors Raced Past Stricken Yacht

posted: 9/8/2012
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A report on a fatal yacht crash during a race off the San Francisco coast says it was “troubling” that other competitors did not stop to help the ailing yacht.            

The report by sailing’s governing body concluded, however, that little could have been done to save the five crewmembers who drowned after the yacht, Low Speed Chase, was hit by a massive wave and capsized near the Farallon Islands April 14.             Instead, investigators blamed “poor seamanship” for the tragedy and said better safety gear may have helped save lives, according to the report released Aug. 6 by a safety panel appointed by US Sailing.            

The crew sailed too close to the Farallones shore and across shallow water that generated massive waves. The boat briefly capsized, tossing seven of the eight crewmembers into the frigid and rock-strewn water.            

“If the crew of Low Speed Chase had sailed in deeper water, they could have prevented the tragedy,” the report concluded. “Although the course sailed was the direct cause of the capsize, there were additional safety issues that came to light during the investigation, which may have mitigated the outcome.”            

The report made several recommendations for better management of offshore racing, such as converting its paper-based registration process to the Web and maintaining better communication with racers. The report stopped short of calling on organizers to prohibit racers from sailing too close to the Farallones and other land masses, saying it is too big of a burden to require organizers to mark every dangerous spot on the race course.            

The report said investigators “found it troubling that no boats appear to have dropped out or delayed their race in order to render assistance, which is a basic tenet of the sea.”            

The investigators conceded that “it is unlikely that the outcome would have changed in this case” had a competitor stopped, but other racers could have assisted with radio communications or helped with a search of the area.            

Other racers interviewed for the review told investigators that conditions were too dangerous to stop and render assistance. The report concluded Low Speed Chase had chosen a risky route around the island and was in 28 feet of water and dangerously close to a “lee shore” -- the side of the island on the receiving end of the wind gusts -- when it capsized. It was pushed onto the rocks in a matter of minutes. The terrain generated large waves that made it dangerous for any boat to get near, for fear of capsizing or getting pushed into the island by 25-knot winds.            

Laura Munoz, executive director of the Yacht Racing Association of San Francisco Bay, which organized the race, said, “what I heard from racers that were (nearby), they felt they would not have been able to get to where Low Speed Chase was without endangering their own boat and crew.”            

Munoz said her organization “has already been actively working on the recommendations that were part of US Sailing’s final report.”

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