Over Hill Sailing Club
Join Date: Feb 2009
Location: Adirondacks NY
Thanked 111 Times in 108 Posts
Rep Power: 9
Re: Bryan Chong's first hand recount of the Low Speed Chase tragedy
Well; I must say Thank You to Bryan Chong for coming forward so soon after this tragedy to explain the events while it is fresh in his mind. Many people would be too stricken with grief or post traumatic stress to come forward and write such a well composed account of the situation and the events that led to such loss of life. Again, Thank You for your well written letter.
I have a feeling that this tragedy was some time in the making; that the decision to sail in closer to the surf line was due to an erosion of the fear about staying further out over the many years of successful roundings during prior events. IIRC the Farallones race is over 80 years old.
It seems obvious that Alan Cahill, the skipper of LSC, did not think he was doing anything wrong; nor did the other skippers who successfully made a rounding on the same layline in similar conditions. The problem with feeling secure outside of a break line is false because when a big set comes the break location moves further offshore.
Surfers have long known that bigger waves come in sets and they wait patiently on days when the swell is mild for them to come in. The same thing happens on days when there is significant swell; only the sets are monsters, not just above average. These are not rogue waves. They are sets of larger waves within large average wave seas. It is not uncommon for the large set waves to be twice the size of an average size wave. When you add to that the effect of shallow water you can end up with a 30' breaker within seas that are an average height of 12'.
On the issue of survivability; going in the water in front of a 30' breaker (visualize Mavericks here) gives little chance of survival. The wave broke over a shallow area (4-5 fathoms) which was more shallow due to the wave pulling water away from the ground. With a wave that large crashing down; you would be smashed down against the sea floor and either knocked unconscious, wedged in against rocks, or blacked out and drowned due to loss of oxygen. I suspect that the only thing that saved Bryan's life was his auto-inflate PFD, and lots of luck.
While I agree with Byian's comments about the personal responsibility to clip in and "stay on the boat"; I suspect that tethering might not have saved everyone in this situation. The forces imposed in a breaking wave (and rolling boat) can be too great to prevent failure of harness D-Rings, Tethers, and Jacklines (which would have had more than one person attached). The root cause and ensuing loss of life was sailing too close to the break line. There is a corollary to "dont fall overboard"; it's "don't get close to a lee shore". Hopefully this lesson will be learned and maybe some changes to the race will be made to prevent racing sailors from 'cutting it too close'.
My wife and I would like to give our deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives and to the survivors who will always remember their friends who were lost.
Agreed. Staying far off a lee shore should be plain common sense, rogue wave or not. From the looks of the boat, staying attached may have saved some of those missing if they were not crushed or held under too long. My question is, where are the lifejackets? If they were wearing them, and I assume they probably were, it can only be surmised that they punctured, whether still attached to people or stripped away by water. If still inflated, they surely would have been spotted, either on or off. Solid jackets take a hell of a beating and bring you to the surface eventually, even when held under for a long time. They do feel like they are being pulled off when being tossed around but they do stay on. I have always questioned the wisdom of trusting anyone's life to a fragile bag of air. There are just too many sharp or hot things that can render these useless. Inflatables are more comfortable and allow better movement but are they really safe when the going gets rough? Did they actually activate? Plenty of questions still need to come to light.
Alberg 35: With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship.