A survivor from the sailboat Low Speed Chase said his terrifying experience being washed off the 38-foot vessel was like being in a “washing machine with boulders.”
Bryan Chong of Belvedere was one of three crewmembers rescued by the Coast Guard on April 14 after their boat was whipped around by waves near the Farallon Islands, 28 miles off the coast of San Francisco.
In a detailed account provided to the sailing website Latitude 38, Chong described the day, the race, the high swells and the moment everything went wrong.
Chong said as their boat rounded the islands, they could see boats ahead and behind them in a line father from the islands. Their boat cut a little close to the rocks and was about 120 yards from the break zone when “the biggest swell” he’d seen all day approached and began to break.
With nowhere else to go, their boat headed straight toward the wave, which slammed over them. When they resurfaced, the mast had snapped, floatation devices washed away, and only Chong and crewmate Nic Voss were on board. He and Voss tried to help other crew members back on board but were hit by another wave, which three Chong overboard and dashed the boat on the rocks.
“I couldn’t tell if I was in the water for a minute or an hour, but according to Nick it was about 15 minutes,” he wrote. “Those 15 minutes in the water were the absolute scariest in my life.”
Chong, Voss, and owner James Bradford made it safely to the rocks. Marc Kasinin of Tiburon died before the Coast Guard arrived. Crew members Alexis Busch of Larskpur, Alan Cahill of Tiburon, Jordan Fromm of Kentfield, and Elmer Morrissey of Ireland were lost at sea.
Looking back, Chong hopes the incident will prompt discussions about safety. He said the crew had life jackets, cold weather gear and personal flotation devices, but the boat’s tethers were not used.
“Crews need to talk as a team about tethering strategies,” he said. “One person overboard puts the entire crew at risk, as others might need to unclip to quickly maneuver the boat back to their location.”
Chong said luck may have been on his side that day, but he certainly left open the door to challenge it.
“I truly consider myself lucky to have a second chance at life with my wife and 8-week-old son,” he said. “It’s my wish that no crew or community will ever go through what we’ve endured from this tragic accident.”