San Francisco Yacht Accident: Coast Guard Calls Off Search For Missing Racers (VIDEO)
SAN FRANCISCO — The yacht that was rolled by unexpectedly large waves in a tragic accident that left one crew member dead and four missing was manned mostly by experienced sailors who lived to be on the water and understood the risk, friends and fellow sailors said Monday.
Eight people were aboard the Low Speed Chase on Saturday when a pair of swells slammed all but one of them into the water near the Farallon Islands and sent the yacht onto rocks.
Four had spent several years sailing together on the now-wrecked boat. They were joined by a shared love and the various skills they brought to a day or week at sea, said Adam McAfee, who was a member of that core crew and typically helmed the vessel until about 18 months ago.
"There is a part of me that is thinking, `Would this have turned out differently if I was on board?" said McAfee, 45. "Could we have gotten out of there without anything happening, unscathed, or would I be dead Number 6?"
The owner, James "Jay" Bradford, 41, of Chicago, recognized that he did not have the expertise to skipper a sailboat in rigorous conditions, but he took care and pride in working with a captain and putting together a crew he joined as a hands-on member, McAfee said.
The scion of a family that made millions through the Nashville-based brokerage company, the low-key Bradford had lived in San Francisco until a few years ago and bought the 38-foot vessel in 2006. He quickly began going on local and distance races to Hawaii and Mexico with fellow sailors from the San Francisco Yacht Club in Marin County, where he kept the boat.
With McAfee in the driver's seat and Bradford working in the middle of the boat, Marc Kasanin, a professional artist and talented sailor close to their ages, was recruited to trim the main sail. Rounding out the group of regulars was Jordan Fromm and Nick Vos, strong young men in their 20s who had grown up sailing with the yacht club's youth sailing program, and Alexis Busch, Vos' longtime girlfriend.
"They were inseparable, they did everything together," said Zoe Fritz, 20, a co-worker of Busch's at a Marin County health club.
Busch was a passionate San Francisco Giants fan who as bat girl for the team was the first to congratulate career home run king Barry Bonds when he crossed the plate after hitting his 500th home run in 2007, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Her father was a longtime executive with the team.
As the smallest crew member on the yacht, she usually was tasked with performing maintenance tasks below deck.
A couple of months ago, Bradford started asking who wanted to be part of the crew that would race Low Speed Chase in Saturday's Full Crew Farallones race, a 54-mile, daylong regatta that starts in San Francisco Bay, passes through the Golden Gate and rounds a craggy outpost known as South Farallon Island.
"He said, `Hey, what do you guys think about getting the group together to do this race,'" McAfee said. "It's a collective effort. ... You start with three or four of a core and then build from there."
Kasanin, 46, was up for it. So was Fromm, 25, who was hoping to start up his own yacht restoration business; Vos, 26, who had been honing his competitive racing skills in Australia; and Busch, 26, who worked at a high-end health club.
A key addition was Alan Cahill, a 30-something Marin County resident, husband and father of two. He had immigrated from Ireland, had professional-level skills as a sailor, made a living as a freelance boat mechanic and was studying to be a crash scene investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, McAfee said. From McAfee's understanding, Cahill was designated to skipper Low Speed Chase during the race.
Bryan Chong, a member of the Tiburon town design review board, and Elmer Morrissey, an Irish citizen who had been living in San Francisco, also signed on.
McAfee, who spoke with Bradford the day after the race, said the trouble started as the crew was preparing to round the island, the most technically challenging part of the race. Winds and high waves make navigating the turn difficult, since straying too far from the rocks costs time and straying too close poses the danger of getting caught in the breakers and driven into the rocks.
"There is that very critical point. Everyone is getting so excited because you beat all the way out there and it's just misery, and you know that in about 3 1/2 minutes you are going to get around that island, get off the rail, get the spinnaker up and have a really fun ride home," he said.
But while the crew was making plans for their next move, an exceptionally large wave broadsided the boat, sweeping Bradford and Kasanin overboard. Within seconds, another wave crashed into the craft, sweeping another five into the water. Only Vos, who got tangled in some lines, was still attached the yacht when it ran aground on the rocks.
Another boat in the race that witnessed the accident radioed in a distress call. Coast Guard crews rescued Bradford and Chong, who had somehow managed to scramble up to the island's edge, and Vos, whose leg was broken.
Kasanin's body was found in the water the same day. Fromm, Busch, Cahill and Morrissey remain missing at sea. The Coast Guard called off the search Sunday night, saying the window for surviving in the cold Pacific had passed.
As well as grieving for the lost, members of San Francisco's sailing scene also are rallying around the survivors. Chicago resident Michael Kennedy, who owns the same kind of boat as Bradford and has frequently raced against him, said his heart goes out to him.
"It's an unbearable position he is in because the weight of the world is on his shoulders at this moment," Kennedy said. "You are out there, it's your boat, they are your crew, they are his family."
Dick Enersen, who grew up sailing on San Francisco Bay, is a member of St. Francis Yacht Club and was part of the crew that won the 1964 America's Cup, said it was apparent that "something happened to sweep the deck or cause the boat to heel unexpectedly."
"It's a very sad situation. It's a shock when people die, obviously," Enersen said. "But everybody who thinks about it, and I hope most people do, know there are consequences and hazards, and stuff happens. In this case, it did."
Associated Press writers Marcus Wohlsen in San Francisco and Bernie Wilson in San Diego contributed to this report.