Yacht accident survivor wants more focus on safety

A survivor of the fatal grounding of a racing yacht on rocky islands west of San Francisco is calling on the sailing community to make safety a higher priority.

In a lengthy letter posted online (http://bit.ly/JqIlHH ) Tuesday, Bryan Chong, 38, offered a detailed account of what happened the day the sailboat Low Speed Chase wrecked during an April 14 race around the Farallon Islands.

"Hopefully this incident will spur a wider discussion of sailboat safety," Chong wrote in the lengthy letter published on several sailing blogs, including Sailing Anarchy, Seahorse and Latitude38. "I truly consider myself lucky to have a second chance at life with my wife and 8-week-old son."

Chong, of Belvedere, is one of three crew members who survived after a monster wave slammed into the 38-foot sailboat. One member was found dead that day and four remain missing at sea.

San Francisco police said Tuesday they found no evidence of criminal negligence in the accident, calling it a terrible tragedy. The district attorney's office reviewed the police department's findings and agreed.

Chong said there were no signs of danger when the Low Speed Chase began the Full Crew Farallones race to the islands 27 miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The crew was relaxed and ocean conditions didn't seem abnormal until suddenly the boat was hit by the biggest wave he had ever seen. "A single thought races through my head: 'This is going to be bad,'" he wrote.

The wave knocked Chong and six of his crewmates into the frigid water and tossed the boat high onto the island's rocks, where it stayed until it was airlifted to Half Moon Bay on Monday.

"Those 15 minutes in the water were the absolute scariest in my life," he wrote. "The best way to describe the water in the break zone is a washing machine filled with boulders."

Chong eventually dragged himself to the rocks where he found crew member Nick Vos and boat owner James Bradford. The three remained there until they were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Air National Guard.

He said none of the crew members was tethered to the sailboat, which he called a bad habit that isn't uncommon among experienced sailors.

"It's obvious to me now that I should have been clipped into the boat at every possible opportunity," Chong said. "Crews need to talk as a team about tethering strategies. One person overboard puts the entire crew at risk."