Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 12:33 PM
SAN FRANCISCO -- The crew of the Low Speed Chase was a relaxed but adventurous cadre of expert sailors who were fixtures on the Marin County waterfront, friends and family say.
For five of them, the toughest race in local yachting circles -- the Full Crew Farallones Race, held annually since 1907 -- was their last. A towering wave washed them overboard Saturday afternoon as their boat rounded the islands, and rescue efforts by three crew members who survived the disaster were dashed by another wall of water that wrecked the sailboat.
One sailor, Marc Kasanin, 46, of Belvedere was found dead in the water just after rescuers arrived. The Coast Guard called off its search Sunday night for the other four, saying the "window of survivability" had closed.
"These were some of the best sailors on the bay. It really makes you second-guess these races," said Chris Povio of Belvedere, a friend of Kasanin's. "I know a lot of people are thinking twice about racing now."
The missing sailors were all racing veterans. Alan Cahill, 34, was a professional sailor and boat craftsman who grew up in Ireland and sailed in the same area as his friend Elmer Morrissey, a postdoctoral fellow at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who is also missing.
Alexis Busch, 26, had sailed with her boyfriend, Nick Vos, since they met 10 years ago while attending Redwood High School in Marin. Vos survived the accident, but Busch was lost.
Jordan Fromm, 25, came from a boating family that had long been members of the San Francisco Yacht Club in Belvedere, which managed the race and, until this weekend, had never lost a sailor.
"Everything was just so intuitive for them," said Keri Spiller of Sausalito, who sailed on several outings with the crew of the Low Speed Chase. "The Bay Area can be a very tricky place to sail -- there's a lot of different winds, a lot of currents. But they really knew what they were doing. They just talked about it like talking about the weather."
Kasanin grew up in Belvedere and sailed his first boat at age 5, his friends and family said. He spent the next 40 years sailing, painting nautical scenes and planning his next maritime outing.
"You'd see him walking down Main Street in his flip-flops and shorts, always with a smile on his face," said a childhood friend, John Baker of San Francisco. "He knew how to enjoy life."
Kasanin lived in a cottage within walking distance of his mother, whom he helped with computers, gardening and other household tasks.
"I just relied on him for everything," said his mother, Anne Kasanin. "And he was a good friend."
Busch and Vos lived for a year in Australia, where he sailed and she played in a women's baseball league, said her father, former Giants executive Corey Busch. As a teenager, she was a batgirl for the Giants and gained a measure of fame when she was the only person in the team's dugout to greet prickly slugger Barry Bonds at home plate when he hit his 500th home run in 2001.
Recently, she was managing the Ross Valley Swim and Tennis Club and took part in sailboat racing on the bay, her father said.
" Alex was an incredible person. She was a very special person. It's hard to imagine life without her," Corey Busch said.
At Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Morrissey worked on software to help architects and engineers design more energy-efficient buildings.
"Elmer believed and lived the philosophy that if you are at peace, you are living in the present," said a colleague, Spencer Dutton. "Through his sailing, meditation and sports, Elmer found peace."
Morrissey grew up in Glounthaune, Ireland, where his family still lives. He played violin and ukulele, ran and played rugby.
"He was a rare and true friend, and it feels absolutely unreal and unjust that he's gone," said a friend, Shanthi Sekaran.
Cahill emigrated about a decade ago from Ireland. He has two children who live with their mother in Europe, and married his wife, Shannon, more than a year ago.
He was known as a man as quick with a quip as he was with his craftsman hands -- which were so good with all things boating that he was caretaker for about 40 craft at the San Francisco Yacht Club.
Fromm also grew up sailing, and his family is a longtime pillar of the San Francisco Yacht Club.
"He was just a sweet guy," Spiller said. "A lot of times young sailors who are really good can be cocky -- but not him. He'd take the time to explain things to you."
The boat was owned and skippered by James Bradford, 41, a San Francisco investor who survived the accident along with Vos and another crew member, Bryan Chong of Belvedere. Bradford, known as J-Bird, grew up in Memphis and often cooked jambalaya for his crew, friends said.
Bradford swung the boat around after the other crew members were washed overboard, only to see a second wave crash into the Low Speed Chase and send it onto the rocks of Southeast Farallon Island.
Reached by phone Monday, Bradford declined to comment.
Conditions around the Farallones are notoriously challenging for sailors, with gusty, erratic winds, treacherous currents, rocky shoals near the islands and waves that can suddenly lurch to 15 feet as they approach shore, sailing experts said. Since the 1980s, at least nine sailors have died on the 27-mile course from the bay to the Farallones.
Saturday's conditions were choppy but not unusual for the area. Most boats in the Farallones race stay at least a few hundred yards from the islands, but some skirt closer to save time, said John Navas of Morgan Hill, who won the race two years ago.
"It's extremely dangerous, but a lot of boats do it," Navas said. "The problem is that, close to the islands, the waves build rapidly and steeply and very suddenly. It can be very unpredictable."
Although all the sailors who were swept overboard were wearing life jackets, none was tethered. The Coast Guard makes tethers optional in races such as Saturday's.
The Coast Guard is investigating the incident.
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