Byran Chong on S/A

Low Speed Chase accident survivor has published this today on Sailing Anarchy:

This is my first time posting on SA after years of lurking. First, I want to thank everyone for the kind comments about my original letter. I confess to some initial hesitation about publishing the story after reading heated SA debates over the years but I take my hat off to the collective sailing community for the respectful approach to the incident and follow-up discussions.

There are still questions floating around and I’ll try to provide some additional insight. Also, I have a special request to those that have done the Farallones race. Here are the most frequently asked questions since my letter:

Did SA change the original recipients of your letter?

Yes, but all I really cared about was publication of the complete story as opposed to how some of the news outlets butchered the message. One extracted this headline: “California sailing accident survivor urges new safety rules”. First, I never said there should be new rules. Second, they missed the real message around sparking discussions within the community and crews, or about safety as everyone’s personal responsibility not just the owner/skipper/captain.

Is there a GPS track?

Yes. We had 2 GPS’s running that day – the boat GPS and a handheld Garmin that we managed to recover from a mesh bag in the cockpit. I’m really amazed that it managed to stay on-board.

Here’s some interesting data from the handheld GPS: between 14:36:53 and 14:37:37 (44 seconds) the GPS traveled at 12 knots from a position approximately 464 yards north-northwest of Maintop Island to a position 295 yards southeast toward Maintop Island, this path was perpendicular to its previous direction of travel. Between 14:37:37 and 14:38:32, (55 seconds), the GPS again traveled southeast 160 yards to the shore of Maintop Island at a speed of approximately 5 knots.

I should probably rethink my initial estimate of 128 yards from the break zone. A 250-yard break zone would have then put us at 200 from the edge of the break zone. Any input from someone with a perspective on the depth of the northwest break zone that day would be greatly appreciated.

Where is the boat?

In a storage yard (not in Half Moon Bay).

Did you have a GPS EPIRB?

No. I said GPS in my letter to help those who would be trying to conceptualize an EPIRB for the first time. The Coast Guard said they got 2 hits from our EPIRB and then it went dead. This would have brought them to within a couple of miles of the boat and should clarify the initial misunderstanding about our location. The radio call was received before the EPIRB signal. Also, the EPIRB was recently recovered but the failure has not yet been determined.

How big (in feet) was the wave?

I intentionally left out an attempt at guesstimating the size to avoid the scenario where a bank robbery witness mistakes the Stubnose 22 for a 44 Magnum. The largest swells I’d seen prior to that one was on a boat delivery headed north around Point Conception. This wave was in an entirely different category from those or any I’d seen from shore or the water. Maybe wave science experts could estimate size based on ocean depth at the point we got hit.

I agree with all the comments about swell size verse breaking wave size. The wave that hit us grew as it approached. As I continue to digest, I should also add that the wave was relatively short when compared to a long breaking wave that you would see at the beach. I’m curious to find an ocean floor topography that’s more detailed than those in standard charts.

Did it take 15 minutes for the boat to get to shore?

No. According to GPS data it was about 2 minutes. It was much faster than anyone in the water. The majority of the time I spent in the water was trying to get out once I finally made it to the shore.

Should there be a course change and new safety standards?

Regarding course. I’ve intentionally steered clear of this subject as there are expects that have forgotten more about ocean racing and the Farallon Islands than I’ll ever know. I’m looking to those experts in concert with the local sailboat racing community to make the recommendations. Jay, Nick and I have and will continue to provide investigators with any data that will help them make informed decisions. I suspect the survivors and the families would support any decision that reduces the probability of another tragedy.

Regarding new safely standards.There is no shortage of boating/racing safety standards. What seems to be lacking is diligent adherence to those standards and best practices. I guess the best comparison would be motor vehicles. Lowering the accident rate is less about new rules and more about getting folks to follow the ones that exist today – using seat belts, not driving under the influence, respecting speed limits and observing stop lights/signs.

I wish I could say that before every ocean race over the years someone told me basics like where the bolt cutters were located, and made sure everyone onboard knew how to hail the Coast Guard, how to crank their engine, etc. What if the one person left on the boat after an accident is new to sailing and has no clue about how to drive a boat or manually set off the EPIRB?

How can I help?

I’d like to assemble GPS tracks for that day and get them plotted onto one chart to provide a single consolidated view of as many boat routes as possible around the island that day. I’d ask that if you were out there or know people who were, could you ask them to download their GPS track data and email it to me at bryan@chonger.com. Raw data is fine as long as it has the basic long/lat/time. Our handheld had our 2011 track data so I’ll also take previous years routes from anyone that wants to share. Please include wind and wave conditions if you can remember them. Thanks in advance for your help.

Thanks everyone for your support over the past 3 weeks.

Sincerely,

Bryan Chong

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