SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The crew of Green Buffalo was exhausted and seasick from being tossed in seven- to 10-foot swells and drenched by a wave that had crashed over their sailboat when the skipper spotted a fixed white pole sticking up from a rocky outcropping on the backside of the Farallon Islands, 28 miles from the Golden Gate.
What the crew first thought was a piece of research equipment turned out to be the mast of the crippled Low Speed Chase, one of 52 sailboats that started the race in calm seas hours earlier Saturday morning.
"Not everybody realized at the time," crewman Michael Moradzadeh said Monday, "we were seeing people losing their lives."
On Monday, from the San Francisco Yacht Club to the San Francisco Giants game, fellow sailors, family and friends grieved over the loss of four sailors who are now feared lost at sea and a fifth whose body was recovered in what's being called the deadliest yacht-racing accident off Northern California's coast in 30 years.
Only three out of the eight crew members aboard the 38-foot Low Speed Chase made it to safety.
Four others, including Alexis Busch, the 26-year-old daughter of former San Francisco Giants executive Corey Busch, vanished into the sea. A former Giants bat girl, who greeted slugger Barry Bonds at home plate after his 500th career homer, Alexis Busch was an avid ballplayer herself, starting an organization called Lady Baseball to help get girls and women involved in competitive hardball leagues.
"Our family is overwhelmed by, and extraordinarily grateful for the outpouring of love for Alexis and the support being extended to us," Corey Busch said Monday in a statement. "Her greatest loves in life were her family, friends and her partner Nick Vos. Yes, even moreso than her love of baseball and the Beatles."
Vos was also aboard the Low Speed Chase when a 12-foot wave battered the 38-foot yacht, spilling five of the crew into the rough surf. When the boat turned back, another wave knocked two others into the water, leaving Vos aboard alone. He survived the ordeal with a broken leg.
The boat's owner James Bradford, 41, of Chicago and Bryan Chong of Tiberon managed to scramble onto the rocks where they were rescued by the Coast Guard. The body of Marc Kasanin, 46, a Belvedere artist, was pulled limp from the water.
Along with Busch, the three other missing sailors are Elmer Morrissey, 32, a postdoctoral researcher from Cork, Ireland, who worked at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Alan Cahill, who was also from Ireland, but lived in Tiberon for many years; and Jordan Fromm, 25, of Kentfield who was set to graduate from Dominican University with a busienss degree next month.
"We are devastated beyond words," the family said in a statement e-mailed by Fromm's father, Andy Fromm. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to all friends and families who have been affected by this tragedy."
The Coast Guard called off its search Sunday evening, believing the 50 degree waters too cold for survival.
"One of the survivors did see a life jacket basically torn up by the rocks," Lt. Chris Hanzlik, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman, said Monday. "We searched for 30 hours."
Saturday's accident was the biggest sailing tragedy at the Farallon Islands since 1982, when six were killed after three boats capsized.
Roughly 400 members of the tight-knit sailing community gathered Sunday for a vigil at the San Francisco Yacht Club in Belvedere. The Giants paused for a moment of silence before their game Monday night with the Philadelphia Phillies. Tributes and condolences poured in from across the Bay Area.
"I've known Corey for a long time, and the depth of my sorrow I can't even express," A's co-owner Lew Wolff said on Monday in regards to the Busch family. Corey Busch is a member of Major League Baseball's panel studying the A's desire to relocate to San Jose.
"Everybody's heartbroken, shocked. It's just unbelievable," said Steve DePetro, general manager of the San Francisco Yacht Club in Belvedere, which had been involved in the race to the Farallones without a fatality for a century. "I've never seen anything like this."
Sailors were still trying to make sense of the tragedy that happened in rough, rowdy waters with 25 mph winds -- conditions that are dangerous but not unusual for the Farallones this time of year.
"These guys as far as we know didn't take any unusually risky paths around the island," said Andy Turpin, managing editor of Latitude 38, a Mill Valley sailing magazine. "The other boats that observed it were on virtually the same track."
Alexis Busch and Vos had recently returned from Australia, where she played in a women's baseball league and was looking forward to returning to playing in the California Women's Baseball League next month, friends said. A star catcher, friends remembered how she tried to tough it out and stay in a game, even after a ball hit her square in the nose.
"She was a go get'er with a smile on her face through good times and bad," Busch's teammate of eight years, pitcher Danielle Brenner, wrote in an email.
Ron Young, a Vos family friend and San Francisco Yacht Club member who was racing on a different sailboat Saturday, remembers how inseparable Busch and Vos were.
"She was without any question," Young said, "Nick's North Star."
(Marin Independent Journal reporter Will Jason contributed to this report.)
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