Jeff Zarwell – 2012 Full Crew Farallones Race

Published on May 3rd, 2012

Forty-nine boats competed on April 14th in the 2012 Full Crew Farallones Race, a 58 nm contest that has run continuously since 1907. It is one of a handful of races in San Francisco that extends beyond the Golden Gate Bridge and into the Pacific Ocean.

The 2012 edition will be remembered for the tragedy that befell the Sydney 38 Low Speed Chase, which was pummeled by waves while rounding the island, tossing five of the eight crew members overboard, and to their death.

Scuttlebutt contacted Jeff Zarwell of RegattaPRO, a provider of Principal Race Officers for regattas, who was the PRO for the 2012 Full Crew Farallones Race. Here are Jeff’s comments concerning the incident…

I will first state that what follows is my opinion, and does not necessarily represent the opinion any of the yacht clubs I manage races for.

At the conclusion of the Farallones race, I was trying to find answers to the tragedy, as well as what I could have done to prevent this. I myself have participated in at least a dozen of these events and managed about as many over the years.

The idea of setting up a waypoint perimeter did enter my mind, as well as the minds of many others. After all, if we kept boats away from the island this wouldn’t have happened….right? The fact is that you and I could probably sail that same course a half dozen or more times and never have the same results as those on April 14th. On the other hand, there is the distinct possibility that I could set waypoints well off the shore of the islands (a mile, mile and a half, more?), and yet under certain circumstances, a similar result could occur.

The reality is that it is the open ocean. Mariners have perished throughout the ages attempting to conquer the sea. How do we tame a wave? Can we even?

Let’s face it, like many other sports (rock climbing, cliff diving, motorsports, etc), ocean sailing has an element of danger to it. That’s a big part of its appeal. If we could control the winds and calm the seas, would we even want to go out there? Would there be enough challenge?

Okay, so let’s say we’re going to put in waypoints anyway. It’s easy. I set up say five waypoints around the perimeter of the islands, guarding the south, west and northern sides of the islands. The RC provides those waypoints to the competitors, who in turn enter the coordinates into their GPS. They are required to turn on the “Track” function on their GPS (I don’t know of a GPS that doesn’t have a track function). Upon their completion of the race we can request to review the track of all yachts, the top finishers or even at random. If their track shows them inside the perimeter, they’re DSQ’d. Easy and low cost. Using transponders would work also, but at a greater cost and may prove to be prohibitive for smaller events such as the Farallones race.

However, by requiring them to round waypoints to keep them out of potentially dangerous areas, did we not in effect tell them that by doing so they would be safe? And would we be opening the ugly door of liability? We can’t assure them that by staying outside a predetermined area that they’ll be safe. I also think you know as well as I do that most of us wouldn’t bother with the Farallones race if there was no risk.

This was a difficult race for me to manage because these competitors were also personal friends of mine. I do not take this loss lightly. I don’t know what the answer is or if there really is one. However, I will continue to review what happened in an attempt to prevent loss of life in the future.

The Sailing Instructions for the 2012 Full Crew Farallones Race state that yachts must “have met the minimum equipment requirements for YRA Ocean Races.” This information is on the website for the Yacht Racing Association of San Francisco Bay, under a directory for the Offshore Yacht Racing Association. The link, labeled OYRA Minimum Equipment Requirements, directs the competitor to all the requirements each entrant must fulfill, at a minimum. These are the ISAF Category II Requirements, as amended by US Sailing and the San Francisco Bay OYRA.

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