THE families of two Irish sailors feared drowned in a US yacht race are travelling out to California with the news that the search for them has been called off.
The US Coastguard has suspended its search for Alan Cahill (36) and Dr Elmer Morrissey (32), both from Cork, who were swept overboard when their yacht was struck by massive waves last Saturday.
They were part of the eight-person crew on the Low Speed Chase, a 12-metre craft owned by Chicago-businessman James Cradford (41), which was racing from San Francisco around the Farallon Islands, some 45km off the California coast.
The US Coast Guard confirmed to the Herald that, after two days, the search operation has now been stood down.
Petty Officer Caleb Critchfield said there were no plans to resume the mammoth search operation which had included up to 10 planes, helicopters and vessels.
"There is a window of survivability and we searched well beyond that window," he said.
Captain Cynthia Stowe admitted that it was a very difficult decision to suspend the search.
"The decision to suspend a search and rescue case like this is never an easy one to make. The Coast Guard extends our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of the lost crewmen and the deceased. They will all be in our thoughts and prayers," she said.
However, all vessels and aircraft in the area west of San Francisco Bay are being asked to remain vigilant for the missing four crewmen, including the two Irishmen.
The others missing include an American man and woman, both from California. All four are understood to have been wearing life-vests. Today, both the Cahill and Morrissey families are set to prepare to travel to San Francisco.
The Cahill family want to support Alan's American wife, Shannon, and her two children.
The couple married two years ago and had been hoping to return to Ireland on holidays over the summer.
Mr Cahill, a professional sailor, is from Killeens while Dr Morrissey is from Glounthaune, both on the outskirts of Cork city.
"Sailing was Alan's life -- he loved the sea and his sailing friends," Alan Cahill's mother Noreen told the Herald.
In the prestigious San Francisco Yacht Club (SFYC) the Corkman was fondly known as "Irish Alan".
He adored the US -- but insisted on keeping in close contact with his Cork-based family, which includes his parents, John and Noreen, his sister Tracy and brother, Mark.
"He came back to Cork fairly regularly and always went to Crosshaven and Kinsale to visit friends. Everyone out there (US) and here in Cork is devastated by this. We are absolutely heartbroken."
"We have priceless memories of Alan -- he was a fantastic son. We just cannot believe what has happened," she added.
Dr Morrissey's parents, Michael and Ena, were both on holidays in Spain when news of the tragedy broke. His sister, Kelda, was in the UK but all three were returning to Ireland last night before travelling to San Francisco.
The Department of Foreign Affairs is providing assistance.