Sailing community reeling after California race accident

SAN FRANCISCO Mon Apr 16, 2012 10:22pm EDT

1 of 2. People enter the San Francisco Yacht Club to attend a vigil for the four missing sailors in Belvedere, California April 15, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Stephen Lam

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - One day after rescuers halted a search for four sailors swept overboard during a yacht race off San Francisco, stunned members of the close-knit sailing community struggled on Monday to come to grips with a loss they called "devastating."

The body of 46-year-old Marc Kasanin was recovered by the U.S. Coast Guard before rescuers suspended their search for the four people still missing on Sunday, saying that more than 12 hours had elapsed past a so-called "survivability window."

Witnesses say a powerful wave threw at least three of the eight crew members from the 38-foot Low Speed Chase on Saturday afternoon during the Full Crew Farallones Race off San Francisco.

When the crew returned to rescue their mates, a second strong wave slammed the ship, throwing more of the members overboard. A third wave slammed the boat into a rocky island.

Helicopter crews using litter baskets were able to rescue three crew members.

The missing sailors have been identified as Californians Jordan Fromm, 25, Alan Cahill and Alexis Busch and Elmer Morrissey of Ireland.

No one had ever before died during the race, which was first held in 1907, and the accident left the 1,400-member San Francisco Yacht Club stunned.

The club, founded in 1869 and the oldest yachting club on the West Coast, held a vigil on Sunday attended by more than 400 people, including family members of the missing sailors.

"It's just been devastating," said Ed Lynch, a member of the board of directors of the San Francisco Yacht Club, which manages the race.

"The scale of loss of life is just unbelievable," he said. "It's a very tight-knit community, and it's hit us hard, not just our community, but the sailing community around the globe."

HOPING FOR A MIRACLE

Stephen DePetro, general manager of the San Francisco Yacht Club, said he holds a glimmer of hope for the missing four, although he conceded that "odds are grim" that they had somehow survived in the frigid waters.

"Maybe miracles do happen," he said.

"Everybody's still reeling," said Laura Munoz, executive director of the Yacht Racing Association of San Francisco Bay, which organized Saturday's race. "This race has been going on for 100 years, and nothing like this has ever happened."

Greg Johnston of San Francisco sailed a 50-foot boat in the race and said the conditions, though challenging, were typical for the area.

"The seas were ugly, nothing that they hadn't particularly seen before," he said. "It's a good reality check to remind people that sailing can be a dangerous sport, and the ocean, for all its might, is a dangerous environment."

Coast Guard spokesman Mike Lutz said boats and helicopters searched 5,000 miles of the ocean waters of the Farallones, known for being home to sharks, to find the missing sailors. He said the search would resume only if new information surfaced.

Kasanin was an artist who traveled frequently to Croatia to paint the coastline.

Fromm was planning to graduate from Dominican University of California next month. Lynch said he grew up on the water and described him as "an excellent sailor and racer."

Lynch said Cahill was an Irishman who spoke with a brogue and repaired boats for San Francisco Yacht Club members.

"He was quite a character, a wonderful, good-natured guy, somebody you could spend a day with on a boat, and he would keep you laughing."

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Eric Walsh)

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