Low Speed Chase

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Low Speed Chase, Farallon Islands

Low Speed Chase (#) (-2012), a Sydney 38 racing sailboat wrecked on April 14, 2012 at the Farallon Islands during the San Francisco Yacht Club's 2012 Full Crew Farallones Race, a racing tradition started in 1907. Forty-nine boats were entered in the race in 2012. Eight crew were aboard and only three survived. Five crewman were lost:

  • Alexis Busch (26)
  • Alan Cahill (36)
  • Jordan Fromm (25)
  • Marc Kasanin (46)
  • Elmer Morrissey (32)

Vessel owner, James Bradford, and crew Bryan Chong (38) and Nick Vos (26) survived.

Three bodies were recovered from SE Farallon Island: Marc Kasanin on the day of the race April 14, 2012; Jordan Fromm on April 26, 2012; and Elmer Morrissey on May 2, 2012.

The hull of the vessel was salvaged by helicopter. Ballard Diving and Salvage crew members flew to the island in an Aris helicopter, prepared the wreckage and hoisted the roughly 15,000-pound vessel to Half Moon Bay.

Since the 1980s, at least nine sailors have died on the 27-mile course from the bay to the Farallones. This marked the only fatalities in the history of this particular annual race that was first held in 1907.

Survivor Bryon Chong later wrote:

“The Wave. I see another wave approaching in the distance. It’s coming from the same direction as the other swells but it’s massive. I’ve seen large waves before but this is unlike anything I’ve ever seen outside of big-wave surf videos. As the wave approaches it begins to face up, its front flattening as it crests. By the time our boat meets it, there’s no escape route. Alan steers the boat into the wave and the bow of Low Speed Chase ascends the breaking wave, which seconds sooner would have been a giant swell and seconds later would have already broken. Instead, we’re heading into a crashing wall of water with 9-10 knots of boat-speed and it breaks directly on us. I lock my right arm to the bottom lifeline and brace for the impact. The last thing I see is the boat tipping toward vertical with a band of water still above it. A single thought races through my head: “This is going to be bad.”
After the impact I was underwater until the boat righted itself. Confused and disoriented I looked around while water cleared off the deck. Nick and I were the only ones still on the boat. The sails were shredded, the mast snapped and every flotation device had been ripped off. We immediately began to try pulling our crew members back into the boat but a second wave hit us from behind. This one ripped me off the boat and into the break zone. Nick barely managed to stay aboard as the boat was tossed by the breakers onto 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. People have asked me if I swam for shore. The best way to describe the water in the break zone is a washing machine filled with boulders. You don’t really swim. The water took me where it wanted to take me, and when I was finally able to climb from the surf onto low rocks I heard Nick shouting from the distance for me to get to higher ground. Together we located Jay further down the shoreline. He was out of the surf but trapped on a rock surrounded by cliffs. From what we could see, nobody else had been able to climb to safety.”


In the News~

August 13, 2014 [SFGate]: “The crew of the Low Speed Chase was a relaxed but adventurous cadre of expert sailors who were fixtures on the Marin County waterfront, friends and family said Monday. For five of them, the toughest race in local yachting circles - the Full Crew Farallones Race, held annually since 1907 - was their last. A towering wave washed them overboard Saturday afternoon as their boat rounded the islands, and rescue efforts by three crew members who survived the disaster were dashed by another wall of water that wrecked the sailboat. One sailor, Marc Kasanin, 46, of Belvedere was found dead in the water just after rescuers arrived. The Coast Guard called off its search Sunday night for the other four, saying the "window of survivability" had closed. "These were some of the best sailors on the bay. It really makes you second-guess these races," said Chris Povio of Belvedere, a friend of Kasanin's. "I know a lot of people are thinking twice about racing now." The missing sailors were all racing veterans. Alan Cahill, 34, was a professional sailor and boat craftsman who grew up in Ireland and sailed in the same area as his friend Elmer Morrissey, a postdoctoral fellow at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who is also among the missing. Alexis Busch, 26, had sailed with her boyfriend, Nick Vos, since they met 10 years ago while attending Redwood High School in Marin. Vos survived the accident, but Busch was lost. Jordan Fromm, 25, came from a boating family that had long been members of the San Francisco Yacht Club in Belvedere, which managed the race and, until this weekend, had never lost a sailor. "Everything was just so intuitive for them," said Keri Spiller of Sausalito, who sailed on several outings with the crew of the Low Speed Chase. "The Bay Area can be a very tricky place to sail - there's a lot of different winds, a lot of currents. But they really knew what they were doing. They just talked about it like talking about the weather." Kasanin grew up in Belvedere and sailed his first boat at age 5, his friends and family said. He spent the next 40 years sailing, painting nautical scenes and planning his next maritime outing. "You'd see him walking down Main Street in his flip-flops and shorts, always with a smile on his face," said a childhood friend, John Baker of San Francisco. "He knew how to enjoy life." Kasanin lived in a cottage within walking distance of his mother, whom he helped with computers, gardening and other household tasks. "I just relied on him for everything," said his mother, Anne Kasanin. "And he was a good friend." Busch and Vos lived for a year in Australia, where he sailed and she played in a women's baseball league, said her father, former Giants executive Corey Busch. As a teenager, she was a batgirl for the Giants and gained a measure of fame when she was the only person in the team's dugout to greet prickly slugger Barry Bonds at home plate when he hit his 500th home run in 2001. Recently, she was managing the Ross Valley Swim and Tennis Club and took part in sailboat racing on the bay, her father said. "I've never experienced anything like this, and I don't ever wish anyone to experience what we're going through," Corey Busch said. "I can't even describe what the heartache is. You're not supposed to lose a child, and Alex was an incredible person. She was a very special person. It's hard to imagine life without her." At Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Morrissey worked on software to help architects and engineers design more energy-efficient buildings. "Elmer believed and lived the philosophy that if you are at peace, you are living in the present," said a colleague, Spencer Dutton. "Through his sailing, meditation and sports, Elmer found peace." Morrissey grew up in Glounthaune, Ireland, where his family still lives. He played violin and ukulele, ran and played rugby. "He was a rare and true friend, and it feels absolutely unreal and unjust that he's gone," said a friend, Shanthi Sekaran. Cahill emigrated about a decade ago from Ireland. He has two children who live with their mother in Europe, and married his wife, Shannon, more than a year ago. He was known as a man as quick with a quip as he was with his craftsman hands - which were so good with all things boating that he was caretaker for about 40 craft at the San Francisco Yacht Club. Fromm also grew up sailing, and his family is a longtime pillar of the San Francisco Yacht Club. "He was just a sweet guy," Spiller said. "A lot of times young sailors who are really good can be cocky - but not him. He'd take the time to explain things to you." The boat was owned and skippered by James Bradford, 41, a San Francisco investor who survived the accident along with Vos and another crew member, Bryan Chong of Belvedere. Bradford, known as J-Bird, grew up in Memphis and often cooked jambalaya for his crew, friends said. Bradford swung the boat around after the other crew members were washed overboard, only to see a second wave crash into the Low Speed Chase and send it onto the rocks of Southeast Farallon Island. Reached by phone Monday, Bradford declined to comment. Conditions around the Farallones are notoriously challenging for sailors, with gusty, erratic winds, treacherous currents, rocky shoals near the islands and waves that can suddenly lurch to 15 feet as they approach shore, sailing experts said. Since the 1980s, at least nine sailors have died on the 27-mile course from the bay to the Farallones. Saturday's conditions were choppy but not unusual for the area. Most boats in the Farallones race stay at least a few hundred yards from the islands, but some skirt closer to save time, said John Navas of Morgan Hill, who won the race two years ago. "It's extremely dangerous, but a lot of boats do it," Navas said. "The problem is that, close to the islands, the waves build rapidly and steeply and very suddenly. It can be very unpredictable." Although all the sailors who were swept overboard were wearing life jackets, none was tethered. The Coast Guard makes tethers optional in races such as Saturday's. Some local sailors said tethers - ropes linking a sailor to the boat - can save lives in high seas. But others said they can also drag an overboard sailor under the boat. "Almost all race boats are pretty lax about tethers," Navas said. "I'm not sure if these guys being tethered would have prevented anything." The Coast Guard is investigating the incident, as it does with any major offshore incident. "There's a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking going on about what these guys might have done right or wrong," said Andy Turpin, editor of Latitude 38 sailing magazine. "I doubt there was anything the skipper of the Low Speed Chase could have done. ... There were other boats who were taking the same path and came out fine. "I think they just got really unlucky." ”

December 14, 2012 [SFGate]: “The father of a Larkspur woman killed in a sailboat accident near the Farallon Islands in April has sued the owner of the yacht for wrongful death, and for the pain and distress his daughter suffered as she drowned. Corey Busch, a former San Francisco Giants executive, filed the lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court this week against James Bradford of Chicago, owner of the yacht Low Speed Chase. Bradford was one of three survivors in a racing accident that claimed the lives of Alexis Busch, 26 and four other crew members after a pair of massive waves swept them overboard April 14 during the Full Crew Farallones Race. Also killed were Jordan Fromm, 25, of Kentfield; Alan Cahill, 36, of Tiburon; Marc Kasanin, 46, of Belvedere and Elmer Morrissey, 32, a visiting researcher from Ireland. The two other survivors were Bryan Chong, 38, of Tiburon and Nick Vos, 26, of Sonoma, who was Busch's longtime boyfriend. The lawsuit by Cory Busch says Cahill, who was the vessel's captain hired by Bradford, "cut corners" when he sailed into a dangerous area that other boats avoided during the race around the Farallon Islands. That decision led to waves flipping the boat and killing Busch and the others, the suit claims. The crash was one of the worst yacht racing accidents in the Bay Area in decades and marked the only fatalities in the history of the annual race that was first held in 1907. Similar to the lawsuit, a report by a national governing body for sailing concluded the April 14 crash was the result of the boat's path through a shallow stretch of water near the islands. The July 31 probe from US Sailing says experts believe the decision on the boat's course was not made "with an understanding of the risks." Low Speed Chase was one of 49 boats that left the San Francisco Bay to make the journey around the uninhabited islands that sit about 27 miles west of San Francisco, the report says. As the Chase started to round the islands, it passed over an underwater ledge that some of the other boats were purposely sailing around. The ledge creates conditions where waves can grow to 30 feet in height, the suit says. Low Speed Chase was flipped and tossed onto the island by waves, which dumped all but one crew member into the water. Reached by phone this week, Bradford declined to discuss the suit, saying, "It's a private issue between me and the survivors." "I almost lost my life too," he said, adding that his friends died. "It was horrible, even to survive." Bradford said he has not faced criminal charges in connection with the crash. While the US Sailing report focuses on the boat's course, it also says different life jackets could also have saved lives. Specifically, the report noted, higher buoyancy jackets that inflate automatically might have helped. The experts also said thigh straps to keep the jackets secure could have improved survival chances. However, in the process of their investigation the experts learned that other racers didn't comply with minimum safety equipment standards. "It is not clear whether these skippers were unaware of the requirements or simply ignored them," the report says. In the suit, Busch's family doesn't list a dollar amount, but they're seeking compensation for funeral expenses as well as punitive damages, which are intended to punish bad behavior, from Bradford. Michael Kelly, an attorney for the Busch family, said that because no criminal action has been taken against the boat owner, the family wants to hold him accountable for an avoidable tragedy. "It's become clear to them that this shouldn't have happened," he said in interview.”