SAN FRANCISCO -- A century-old tradition, the Full Crew Farallones Race, has never been for the faint of heart: Winds averaging 10 to 20 knots and churning 14-foot Pacific Ocean swells are among the conditions typically braved by yachts and their crews in the daylong regatta, a spring favorite of skilled sailors.
But on Saturday, powerful waves and a disastrous series of events brought rare tragedy to the august race and the San Francisco Bay Area's large sailing community.
One crew member died and four others in the eight-member crew were missing yesterday after two strong waves swept them from their boat near the rocky Farallon Islands, halfway point of the 54-mile race that began at daybreak in San Francisco with 49 entrants.
The entire crew was believed to have been wearing life vests and cold weather gear, which made rescuers optimistic they may find more survivors, Coast Guard Petty Officer Levi Read said.
The death was the first known fatality in the 143-year history of the San Francisco Yacht Club, which managed the race for the Offshore Yacht Racing Association and where the yacht in the accident, the 38-foot Low Speed Chase, was based, club director Ed Lynch said.
"The race community is a very tight-knit group of people, and obviously this tragedy has reached far and wide around the world," Lynch said. "It's an event that will give everybody pause."
Low Speed Chase's owner and driver, James Bradford, 41, of Chicago, was among the three survivors whom the Coast Guard, assisted by National Guard helicopters, pulled from one of the islands, Lynch said.
Bradford and another crew member were briefly treated at a hospital, while the third survivor remained hospitalized with a broken leg and contusions, he said.
The seven men and one woman on board ranged in age from their 20s to their 40s, Lynch said. He said the San Mateo County Coroner's Office has identified the dead crew member as Marc Kasanin, 46, of Belvedere, Calif. Still missing are Alan Cahill, Jordan Fromm and Alex Busch, the lone woman, Lynch said. A fourth missing crew member is not being named because his family in Ireland has not been notified.