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Old 18-03-2008, 19:09   #1
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Tragedy in San Francisco

Happened Saturday. Two older fellows in a Choy Lee sailed outside the Bay in the Double Handed Lightship Race ( A loop around the lightship that is ~10 miles outside the Bay) and never returned. There bodies were found washed up on the beach along with some debris from the boat. No one knows what caused the boat to sink. Here is a link Experts mystified by loss of sailboat and 2 aboard Also see Lattitude 38 Latitude 38 - The West's Premier Sailing & Marine Magazine Go Early Go now.
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Old 18-03-2008, 19:48   #2
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Sad. I am curious what really happened. My best guess is a wave broke over the boat. If you get outside the bar channel onto what is called "the Potato Patch shoal", the waves get massive in just those conditions...a big ebb going the opposite direction of a large swell. For lack of a better word, I have seen humongous waves breaking over that shoal.
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Old 18-03-2008, 20:00   #3
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David:

I always thought the Potato Patch was on the Northside of the entrance to the Bay. Is that correct? If so then it would be very strange for someone returning from the lightbucket to head north b/c it is upwind. I'm going to have a look at an old chart that I have.
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Old 18-03-2008, 20:24   #4
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It would pretty much be a 250 degree course out and a reciprocal course back.

Charts of San Francisco Bay: Gulf of the Farallones.

Potato Patch is north of the bar channel indeed. Wasn't there a southerly on Saturday? As I remember it was a pretty blustery day and in storm conditions it is typically a southerly to south easterly..although I don't remember the wind direction specifically. Could they perhaps have lost steerage and then been blown to the north and onto the shoal?

Edit: Nope, wind was from 290 that day with gusts to 30 at SFO
National Weather Service - NWS San Francisco/Monterey Bay Area
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Old 19-03-2008, 01:20   #5
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The debris and the one of the victims washed up in Half Moon Bay, which is about 18 NM south of San Francisco. The current will probably have more effect on the drift than the wind.

The Potato Patch (part of the "Four Fathom Bank') is north of the channel, and while this can be treacherous, equally bad is the "South Channel" area, which isn't much of a channel and is really a shoal that extends far out from shore south of the channel. Either side of the channel can be quite hairy and many boats have been lost on either side.

A strong ebb tide can turn even medium swells into steep breaking waves in the channel, and definitely on the bars, but the current was near slack, and starting to flood, when the boats were returning. Even so, the reported swells were fairly large and the winds high, so conditions were ripe for a broach. The Cheoy Lee they were sailing is a heavy boat, so it would be easy to lose control in steep following and breaking seas. I've got a large heavy cruiser, and when returning to San Francisco from offshore I've experienced flow-reversal on my rudder (from steep breaking waves), which makes steering a straight course quite a challenge.

I wasn't there on Saturday (we were sailing inside the bay), and I don't know what happened, but a plausible scenario is that they broached (or were pooped), they downflooded, then sank.
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Old 19-03-2008, 02:36   #6
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The debris and the one of the victims washed up in Half Moon Bay, which is about 18 NM south of San Francisco. The current will probably have more effect on the drift than the wind.

The Potato Patch (part of the "Four Fathom Bank') is north of the channel, and while this can be treacherous, equally bad is the "South Channel" area, which isn't much of a channel and is really a shoal that extends far out from shore south of the channel. Either side of the channel can be quite hairy and many boats have been lost on either side.

A strong ebb tide can turn even medium swells into steep breaking waves in the channel, and definitely on the bars, but the current was near slack, and starting to flood, when the boats were returning. Even so, the reported swells were fairly large and the winds high, so conditions were ripe for a broach. The Cheoy Lee they were sailing is a heavy boat, so it would be easy to lose control in steep following and breaking seas. I've got a large heavy cruiser, and when returning to San Francisco from offshore I've experienced flow-reversal on my rudder (from steep breaking waves), which makes steering a straight course quite a challenge.

I wasn't there on Saturday (we were sailing inside the bay), and I don't know what happened, but a plausible scenario is that they broached (or were pooped), they downflooded, then sank.
I came into the S.F. Bay one time on a max flood current and experienced the flow from back of the rudder. Yes...it was a challenge. I have tried to come in and out of there on a slack instead.
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Old 19-03-2008, 09:40   #7
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I used to do the MORA races out of the bay before loran was reasonably priced and I know it can get nasty. On more than one occasion I had to insist that the owner put in the hatch boards and find some way to secure them.

Once I did the crewed lightship race on a Macregor 65. It was blowing worse than last Saturdays. On the way back in I could feel the boat twisting like the classic movie from high school physics of the Narrows bridge. We were going fast but the tactician wanted to put the Chute up. It wasn't the most experienced crew in the world and being part of the foredeck crew (and knowing that we would wipe out) I decided to take my time setting it up. In fact I waited until we were inside Bonita and the wind was flighter and further behind us. First and only time I refused to do something on a boat but I feel like it was the right thing to do. It can get really nasty out there.

There's a country song that has a line, "Women (Sailing) are going to be the death of me. But what a way to go." I feel sorry for their families but on the other hand I'd rather go down with my boots on.
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Old 19-03-2008, 11:05   #8
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one of the stories mentions that Daisy's rudder was among the debris, which makes me think they lost it. Any number of consequences in those conditions could then follow.
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Old 19-03-2008, 11:55   #9
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The Choy Lee Offshore 31 has its tiller controlled rudder attached to the keel. One would expect to find it among the wreckage if any were recivered

The seas at the Golden Gate can be particularly vicious with wind against an ebbing tide and the winds were gusting over 25 knots that day with very high seas--Moreover, extremely large "rogue waves" are actually pretty common on the Potatoe Patch Shoal side of the entrance. More than one yacht has "mysteriously" disappeared in that stretch of water--some with no wreckage found what-so-ever.

In the mid 70's I was aboard a friend's CT 41 that was rolled down to her beam ends in that area one windy Sunday afternoon. Frankly, we weren't really sure how far we had been rolled down until we discovered sea-weed tangled in the spreaders once we got ourselves together under the bridge.

That's just a nasty stretch of water if this is any.

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Old 19-03-2008, 12:14   #10
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I found it odd how the article in the link focused in on his lack of safety gear. They were talking EPIRBs and other items I'd never even think to have on a 10nm race. This is a "local" event, not some offshore rally, but the magazine article was talking like his Cheoy Lee should have been outfitted for global cruising. I found that very odd...

A radio might have been good though, to alert the other racers of his situation.

Quite a strange case... It's a shame it happened.
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Old 19-03-2008, 17:46   #11
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SSullivan - EXACTLY my thoughts. I mean, what the heck. Pretty soon they'll want Sunfish to have GPS!
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Old 19-03-2008, 23:32   #12
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I found it odd how the article in the link focused in on his lack of safety gear. They were talking EPIRBs and other items I'd never even think to have on a 10nm race. This is a "local" event, not some offshore rally, but the magazine article was talking like his Cheoy Lee should have been outfitted for global cruising. I found that very odd...

A radio might have been good though, to alert the other racers of his situation.

Quite a strange case... It's a shame it happened.
I'm not sure all that safety gear was required. They just stated he had it. I would imagine if something happened that was catastrophic, he had his
hands full for the few seconds it took place. My heart goes out to them in those few moments as well as all their family who must be extremely distraught right now. I have sailed that area when I lived there and unless you have seen how nasty it can get and how quick it gets that way, it's difficult to understand how it would happen in sunny California.
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Old 20-03-2008, 02:30   #13
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As Latitude 38 reported; “What happened to Daisy and her crew remains a mystery.”

I don’t see the SF Chronicle report as dwelling on a lack of safety gear. They merely reported what they were told.

Along with weather conditions & sea-state, crew qualifications & experience, boat condition, and the presence or absence of safety gear, should all be factors to consider in any accident investigation &/or report.

“... Others wondered about the condition of Gale's boat, a Cheoy Lee Offshore 31 that had recently undergone upgrades but carried only minimal safety equipment for offshore use.
Still others wondered whether Gale and Harrow had sufficient skills to participate in the offshore race. Both were experienced recreational sailors but not hard-core racers ...

... Just last week, Gale had paid about $1,200 for a new VHF marine radio and Global Positioning System - with a wireless, remote control device and mic that could activate those units from the cockpit ...

... "It's an older boat, and it needed to be rewired," said Castano, adding that Gale planned to soon have that electrical work done.

The boat was not equipped with radar, and workers did not recall seeing an inflatable life raft stowed on the deck. Some offshore sailors carry a spare marine battery well above the water line to reduce the chance of electrical failure; Daisy did not. Gale also did not have an EPIRB, Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, which sends a distress signal for rescuers.

Gale had spent about $14,000 in the last six weeks on repairs at Anderson's Boat Yard in Sausalito - mainly for cosmetic repairs, but also for plumbing, fuel tanks, interior woodwork and rigging ..."
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Old 20-03-2008, 06:02   #14
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“... Others wondered about the condition of Gale's boat, a Cheoy Lee Offshore 31 that had recently undergone upgrades but carried only minimal safety equipment for offshore use.
Still others wondered whether Gale and Harrow had sufficient skills to participate in the offshore race. Both were experienced recreational sailors but not hard-core racers ...

Right, Gord. But quoting your quote above, we can see the magazine saying that he had "minimal safety equipment for offshore use."

If this is a 10NM *local* race (hardly offshore). The article suggests he might have wanted to carry thigns like EPIRBs, spare batteries, radar, liferafts and such, for a 10NM local club race.

Doesn't that sound a little bit off to you?

Apparently, I missed that he did have a radio.

My point is that the article casts the sailor's preparation (or lack of it) as one of the possible causes of the break up of his vessel. This guy wasn't rounding the horn... he was out for a day doing a race I could have completed in my dinghy with a full tank of gas on a calm day. He wasn't negligent (as the article implies)... just possibly very unlucky.

Seems he was as well prepared for a local club race as anyone gets. I hate to see a guy cruicified like that for not having EPIRBs, radar, liferafts and whatever else when it's clearly not required for local club racing. The article is very misleading.
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Old 20-03-2008, 07:04   #15
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... If this is a 10NM *local* race (hardly offshore).
...My point is that the article casts the sailor's preparation (or lack of it) as one of the possible causes of the break up of his vessel...
... He wasn't negligent (as the article implies)... just possibly very unlucky...
We can pick nits, but letís not get paranoid on behalf of Gale (68) & Harrow (72).

It was a 25-mile race, outside the Golden Gate (Pacific Ocean).
A sailorís preparation (personal & boat) is ALWAYS a factor in the success or failure (a sinking with loss of all hands is a failure) of a voyage - even a daysail.
Any discussion of the cause(s) of this tragedy (negligence, luck, alien abduction) are speculative - just as were the passages I quoted. They cannot be considered findings; but do represent a little bit of evidence (where itís in short supply).
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