Nine deaths in two separate offshore sailing races originating in California have prompted investigations by US Sailing (www.ussailing.org). The race tragedies follow last summer’s fatal accident in the 2011 Chicago-Mackinac Race, in which two sailors died, and the near-fatal accident in the 2011 Rolex Fastnet race, which Practical Sailor reported on in the May 2012 issue.
In the first California accident, five of eight crew aboard the Sydney 38 Low Speed Chase were killed on April 14, when a breaking wave struck the boat while rounding South Farallon Island, outside San Francisco Bay. One survivor managed to stay with the boat as it was hurled onto the rocks; the rest of the crew was washed into the water. None were tethered to the boat at the time of the accident.
Investigators are also looking into the cause of the second accident, during the Newport-Ensenada Race off of Southern California. Based on data from a Spot Satellite Tracker that was reportedly on the boat, it is presumed all four crew of the Hunter 376 Aegean were killed when the boat motored into the rocky north end of North Coronado Island shortly after midnight on April 29 in calm conditions.
The Farallones accident prompted the U.S. Coast Guard to call for an unprecedented “stand down” of offshore racing in the San Francisco Bay area. According to a USCG statement, “Recent offshore accidents have highlighted the need to assess offshore race organizers’ safety plans and procedures.”