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'Our yacht was hit by a monster wave that swept away my pals'

ONE of the survivors from a fatal California yacht wreck that claimed the lives of two Irishmen has described the moment the boat was hit by a monster wave.

Bryan Chong said being thrown overboard felt like he was in "a washing machine filled with boulders".

Alan Cahill and Elmer Morrissey were among five crew mates who died when their yacht Low Speed Chase was hit by a series of powerful waves during the Full Crew Farallones Race off San Francisco.



Shredded

Chong (38) recalled how Cork native Mr Cahill, the best man at his wedding, was steering the boat, and Chong was trimming the mainsail when they passed over the day's largest swell.

A wave he described as "massive ... unlike anything I've ever seen outside of big-wave surf videos," threw everyone overboard except Chong and crew mate Nick Vos, who broke his leg.

"The sails were shredded, the mast snapped, and every flotation device had been ripped off," Chong recounted. He said he and Vos tried to pull their crew mates back onto the boat.

Then a second wave hit them from behind and dumped Chong into the shark-infested water.

"People have asked me if I swam to shore," he said. "The best way to describe the water in the break zone is a washing machine filled with boulders. You don't really swim. The water took me where it wanted to take me."

Chong was rescued along with Vos and the owner and captain of the boat, James Bradford (41) of Chicago.

Cahill was among the five crew members who perished.

Chong said he believed he would have fared better if he and the rest of the crew had been tethered to the yacht.

"It's obvious to me now that I should have been clipped into the boat at every possible opportunity," he said. "Those 15 minutes in the water were the absolute scariest in my life. The boat was the place to be -- inside or out.

"Hopefully, this incident will spur a wider discussion on sailboat safety," he added.

Although sailors disagree about the benefits of tethering, the US Sailing Association recommends safety harnesses be used in rough weather and on cold water. The conditions in the Pacific during the race qualified.

"Everyone was wearing life jackets, and there were eight tethers on the boat -- mine around my neck. "Unfortunately, none of us were clipped in when the wave hit," Chong revealed.

hnews@herald.ie


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