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US Sailing panels examine the accidents

US Sailing appointed a nine-member independent panel to review the loss of five sailors in the 2012 Full Crew Farallones Race in which the Sydney 38 Low Speed Chase rolled in breaking waves off Southeast Farallon Island.

US Sailing president Gary Jobson, in a May 1 conference call, spoke with the media and Coast Guard about the review and a suspension of offshore racing in San Francisco until the review is completed.

He also announced that his organization will undertake a separate inquiry into the April 28 loss of four sailors aboard the Hunter 376 Aegean in the Newport-to-Ensenada Race.

Sally Honey, of Palo Alto, Calif., chairs the Farallones panel. Other members include John Craig, San Rafael, Calif.; Jim Corenman, Friday Harbor, Wash.; Bartz Schneider, Crystal Bay, Nev.; Evans Starzinger, Milford, Conn., offshore special regulations consultant; Chuck Hawley, Santa Cruz, Calif., US Sailing’s safety-at-sea committee chairman; Dr. Michael Jacob, of Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., and Dr. Kent Benedict, of Santa Cruz, medical advisers; and Jim Wildey, Annapolis, Md., adviser on investigation procedures.

The Farallones review was expected to be finished in time for the May 25 running of the Monterey Peninsula Yacht Club’s Spinnaker Cup, Capt. Cynthia Stowe, captain of the Port of San Francisco, said during the teleconference. The suspension had affected two races as of early May. The April 28 Duxship Race was restricted to a course running through San Francisco Bay and just outside the Golden Gate Bridge to Point Bonita. The May 12 Singlehanded Sailing Society Farallones Race was postponed, and organizers instead planned to hold a memorial that day, Stowe says.

Responding to questions about the “stand-down” in offshore racing, Stowe says the Coast Guard had suspended racing off San Francisco because, as the permitting agency for these events, it is responsible for reviewing them and ensuring that they are safely run. “I want to stress that this is a temporary situation,” she says.

Jobson says the Coast Guard had asked US Sailing to undertake the reviews. He says the panel will interview sailors, survivors and race management to find out what happened. They also will review the notice of race, sailing instructions and equipment requirements, and compare them with what was happening on the water. Stowe says she also expects to find out what rules and safety procedures were waived for the race.

As reviews of the catastrophic 1979 Fastnet Race and 1998 Sydney-Hobart Race showed, “a lot can be learned from catastrophes to make offshore racing safer and better,” says Jobson. Earlier this year, US Sailing completed reviews of two deaths in the 2011 Race to Mackinac, one death last summer during a training session on Maryland’s Severn River and the keel failure of Rambler 100 in the 2011 Fastnet Race.

Stowe says the Coast Guard considers the 24 offshore races it permits the “most dangerous” of the 1,300 events it OKs each year.

Hawley, US Sailing’s safety-at-sea committee chairman, says about 700 boaters die each year on their boats; just 15 of them are on auxiliary sailboats — ones with engines like those that go racing. During a two-week period this April, nine sailors died in West Coast races that until then had perfect no-fatality records.
“This is exceptional,” Hawley says. “It does not represent a trend, in my opinion. It’s an extraordinary case of bad luck.” Still, “We are committed to learning from both accidents.”

See related articles:

- Safety rules could change in wake of race accident

- He knows what seas are like at the islands

- Sailors may have crashed into cliffs

This article originally appeared in the July 2012 issue.