Report recommends safety improvements following fatal sailing accident 

click to enlarge The 38-foot yacht Low Speed Chase was airlifted from rocks off the Farallon Islands and stored at an airport in Half Moon Bay. - S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • S.F. Examiner File Photo
  • The 38-foot yacht Low Speed Chase was airlifted from rocks off the Farallon Islands and stored at an airport in Half Moon Bay.

U.S. Sailing this week made recommendations in a report to increase safety for sailors during offshore races to prevent future racing deaths.

The report stems from an April 14 incident in which the Low Speed Chase crashed into the Farallon Islands off the coast of San Francisco, killing five of its crew members during the Full Crew Farallones Race. As a result, an independent review committee recommended increased education and training for ocean races and better lines of communication to prevent future disasters.

“The only change to prevent this capsize would’ve been a different course selection,” said Sally Honey, chairwoman of the committee. “But we hope the remainder of the report serves as a catalyst for more safety improvements for the sport.”

Among recommendations in the 80-page report were increased buoyancy in life vests and requiring thigh and crotch straps, because the panel found the life jackets on the Low Speed Chase crew to be inadequate. Also recommended was educating on when and how to use tethers. Though several crew members had tethers, they were never attached to the boat.

The report also did not recommend races around the Farallones have a required route.

Some recommendations could take years to complete — such as installing radio towers to increase communication with boats as they leave San Francisco Bay — other changes have already begun to take place, Coast Guard Capt. Cynthia Stowe said.

Following a monthlong halt to racing in April and May, the Northern California Offshore Racing Council was formed to create more uniform rules and regulations. It is made up of dozens of organizations administering offshore races.

The Low Speed Chase was one of 60 boats that set sail from the St. Francis Yacht Club for the 58-mile race the morning of April 14. According to the report and witnesses, the boat rounded the group of islands closer than many other boats, which put it in shallower water. A large wave crashed over the 38-foot boat, followed quickly by a second one that sent six of the eight crew members overboard and snapped the boat’s mast in two. The boat was eventually thrown up on the rocks.

Perhaps the most surprising finding in the report was that other boats were nearby when the Low Speed Chase was thrown into the rocks, but not one stopped to help.

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

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