Reuters, AP and the Chronicle are reporting that the Coast Guard has put a halt to two upcoming boat races, pending a safety review stemming from the Apr 14 accident off the Farallon Islands in which one crew member was killed and the other four are missing and presumed dead.
- Video: Crashed yacht towed by helicopter (KGO)
- Bryan Chong, San Francisco Yacht Accident Survivor, Speaks Out (AP)
The Coast Guard is calling this a "safety stand down." Coast Guard spokesperson Mike Lutz tells us "we're working closely with race organizers to implement alternative courses for those impacted offshore races. All the other races that stay within the demarcation line – the imaginary line that runs from Point Bonita down to Lands End – all those other races that are inside of the Bay are not affected whatsoever." He said the cancellation of the races was part of a "working together, a team effort, to make sure that we're doing everything we can to ensure the safety of life at sea."
But the sailing magazine Latitude 38 put up a special report yesterday that quotes an official from the local yacht racing assocation as saying she was "blindsided" by the decision.
In an unprecedented move, Captain Cindy Stowe, USCG Captain of the Port for Sector San Francisco, has temporarily suspended all marine event permits for offshore races in the wake of April 14's Full Crew Farallones Race tragedy in which five sailors perished...
Laura Muñoz [Executive Director of the Yacht Racing Association of San Francisco Bay] was surprised by last night's call from Stowe.
"Honestly, I was blindsided. On Tuesday we had a very productive, three-hour meeting with the Waterways Division of the Coast Guard, the department that oversees our offshore permits. We left the meeting feeling there were no problems with the Duxship this weekend." As it stands, the YRA is frantically trying to determine if they should just cancel the race altogether or run an alternate version, which would allow racers to go as far as Mile Rock before turning back to the Bay. "It's hard to put together a race in 48 hours," Muñoz said.
A follow-up to the post says...
Never before has the Coast Guard canceled permits after an ocean tragedy — not after the infamous 1982 Doublehanded Farallones, in which four racers died; not after 2008's Doublehanded Lightship in which two men aboard Daisy died; not after the J/80 Heatwave lost her keel in 2009's Doublehanded Farallones, leaving two men clinging to the hull until they were rescued. The action is especially puzzling this time around, considering an independent investigation by the SFPD determined that there was no evidence of negligence.
Undoubtedly many sailors are wondering why they shouldn't just get together for a nice long daysail out to Duxbury Reef this Saturday, coincidentally leaving around the time the race would have started. "We would need to not know about that," noted Muñoz, explaining that the YRA can't run a race that doesn't have a permit. We would suggest that everyone take a deep breath before getting too riled up over the situation.
But Andy Newell, President of the Yacht Racing Association of San Francisco Bay told KQED's Paul Lancour that the organization understands the Coast Guard's decision.
"Some of the folks in the sailing community will grumble no matter what happens; there are people who grumble at the current set of rules we have...they'll grumble that the wind is too strong, that the water's cold. The YRA is cetainly disappointed we're not going to go out on the water this weekend, but we understand why and we certainly respect that decision...Frankly, the Coast Guard is there to pick us up out of the water, and we feel like we need to hold up our end of the law and do anything we can to help them."
Meanwhile, The Offshore Yacht Racing Association says the Duxship race will take place on Saturday with an altered 'in-the-Bay' course.
""We will have an ocean race this Saturday," association director Jim Quanci told Latitude 39. "The sole ocean mark will be the Bonita Channel Buoy - sticking our nose back out into the ocean and then back to the Bay, finishing at Encinal YC - which the Coast Guard has 'just' approved. There will also be some sort of social activity after the finish, likely along the lines of a pot luck."
There's a lot of discussion about this on the Pressure Drop sailing web site.
By the way, if you haven't yet seen this video of a helicopter towing the Low Speed Chase, the yacht that crashed a couple of weeks ago, over land and sea -- it's quite visually compelling if you can manage to divorce it from its tragic context...