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 crew members rescued by the Coast Guard on April 14 after their boat was thrashed by waves near the Farallon Islands off the coast of San Francisco. Five other sailors were lost.
In a detailed account on the sailing website Latitude 38, Chong described the day, the race, the swells and the moment everything went wrong.
As their boat rounded the islands, he said they could see boats ahead of them and behind them, in a line farther from the islands. Their boat cut a little close to the rocks and was about 120 yards from the break zone when the day’s biggest swell began to break.
As their boat sailed into the wave, it slammed over them. When they resurfaced, the mast had snapped, flotation devices had washed away, and only Chong and fellow crew member Nick Voss were on board. They tried to help teammates get back onboard, but were hit by another wave, throwing Chong overboard and dashing the boat on the rocks.
“Those 15 minutes in the water were the absolute scariest in my life,” he said.
Chong, Voss and boat owner James Bradford made it safely to the rocks. Marc Kasanin died before the Coast Guard arrived, and Alexis Busch, Alan Cahill, Jordan Fromm, and Elmer Morrissey were lost at sea.
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.”