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Low Speed Chase, High Speed Commiseration

Tim Zimmermann reflects on the tragedy at this past weekend's Farallones Race in San Francisco.

April 16, 2012

You never really get used to it. And you can never not feel empathy, sadness, and regret when sailors die at sea. It doesn’t matter whether you know them, or know their families. Everyone who sails boats on the oceans is part of a community that is bound together by a love of water and adventure, but also by the quiet knowledge that the oceans can kill. That’s why this past weekend’s tragedy during the San Francisco YC’s Farallones Race, in which the Sydney 38 Low Speed Chase lost crew overboard and then was thrown by heavy seas upon the rocks, hits so hard. One dead so far, and four missing. This is a bad one.

Here’s a quick summary of the details (believed) known over the weekend, from SFGate.com:

_Several boats turned back Saturday when 25-knot winds and waves as high as 15 feet churned up the waters near the Farallones, but otherwise the race conditions were typical for that area and this time of year, participants said.

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Then, as racers were rounding the islands at 2:45 p.m., the Low Speed Chase was slammed by a powerful wave that washed five crewmates over the gunwale near the edge of the main Southeast Farallon Island – which, like the other islands, is formidably surrounded by steep, jagged rocks.

The remaining three on board turned the boat around to rescue their comrades when another wave heaved the boat onto the rocks on the northeast corner of the island, authorities said. Two sailors fell over the side on this second assault but managed to scramble to the shoreline, and the one left on board suffered a broken leg. _

Now is a time for mourning, for searching for the four sailors who are still missing [ed.’s note: the Coast Guard suspended the search Monday morning], and for supporting the families and friends they left behind. What happened, why, and the second-guessing that is inevitable, can come later when all the facts are in. And I realize that while social media has plenty of things it is not good for (in addition to being a potential time-waster), connecting people across a tragedy like this is one of the things it excels at.

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For example, there is a memorial page for the lost and missing crew of Low Speed Chase on Facebook, where you can post condolences, pictures, memories. And Marc Kasanin, the sailor whose lifeless body was pulled from the water, has a Facebook page, as well. I didn’t know him, but I can see that two friends of mine did. And it doesn’t take but a few minutes of browsing to feel that Marc was a good guy, passionate for sailing and his friends, which makes his passing all the more poignant and sorrowful. I wish I had had a chance to drink a beer with him. Sadly, given the time that has passed since the four missing crew were thrown into the rough, cold water, it is likely that there will be others that we will get to know a little in their passing.

Lectronic Latitude was quick with an update that had the initial details. And a forum on Sailing Anarchy quickly brought forth hundreds of posts, with information, memories, and commiseration, and hit tens of thousands of views. I was on the opposite coast when the San Francisco Yacht Club held a brief service, but thanks to a forum contributor I caught the atmosphere:

_Was at SFYC last night and it was somber. There are no words to describe the atmosphere. The entire community is still in shock. Those who spoke at the vigil did an incredible job. Candles were lit, roses dropped in to the cove and scattered on Marc’s boat and many a tear shed. Ten bell salute towards the end of the evening. As we left, noticed 5 large candles lit and left on the front porch which I hope burn for a long time. Flags at half mast as Dixie posted a little earlier. Thanks to USCG and Army for the search and rescue efforts, the SFYC for their amazing PR efforts and getting the facts straight before making guesses and assumptions under the microscope of international press coverage, and everyone who has posted a thought or came out last night.
_
Even the Coast Guard was quick to contribute to the growing archive of online info about the tragedy, posting a video of the rescue of three crew.

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There isn’t much I can add that hasn’t been said or posted so far. I’ll be interested to see the facts that are brought forward. For now, keep the friends and families of Low Speed Chase in your thoughts, hug your own friends and family a lot, always respect the ocean, and—-most important–sail safe.

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