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Thursday, December 7, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, December 7, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Boat Owner Accused of Taking Perilous Course

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A woman drowned during a yacht race because the skippers chose a course too close to the rocks of the Farallon Islands, her father claims in court.

James Busch says his daughter, Alexis, was part of an eight-person crew aboard the Slow Speed Chase, participating in the annual Full Crew Farallones Race on April 14, 2012.

The 58-mile race begins outside the marina club house of its sponsor, the San Francisco Yacht Club, and then proceeds through the Golden Gate Bridge and out into the Gulf of the Farallones, according to the complaint. Participants turn around the Southeast Farallone Islands, and then race back to the Yacht Club.

Busch says the Slow Speed Chase had gotten a late start, and was at least an hour behind the pack.

James Bradford, the boat's owner, allegedly decided with the boat's captain, Alan Cahill, to round the islands more closely than their competitors.

"As the vessel started to round the Islands, the northwest winds and seas increased and more whitecaps appeared," according to the complaint. The Farrallone (sic) Islands present a very dangerous lee shore under such circumstances. The waters around South Farrallone (sic) and Main Top Islands shoal very quickly."

The other boats that were rounding the Farallones at the time were staying well away from shore, in water that was at least 60 feet deep, according to the complaint.

Despite its charts, navigation equipment and depth-finder, however, the Low Speed Chase allegedly drove directly across the 4-fathom contour into water no deeper than 28 feet.

An ebbing tide had also reduced the water depth over the shoal that extends almost 600 yards to the north of Main Top Island, Busch says.

The shallow underwater ledge that runs underneath the shortcut allegedly forces open-ocean swells and wind waves upward until they break and crash into the shore.

"Shortly after the vessel crossed the 4-fathom contour, a large wave rolled onto the ledge, became nearly vertical, started to curl, slammed into the vessel, plunged and broke over her bow, snapped her mast in two, capsized her, and washed decedent into the churning water inshore where she was battered among the rocks and drowned," according to the complaint.

The Coast Guard reportedly rescued Bradford and two other crew members from the rocks, and they found the body of a fourth crew member drowned in the 54-degree water.

Alexis Busch, a former batgirl for the San Francisco Giants, and the captain, Cahill, were lost at sea with two others. The 26-year-old Alexis was "battered and beaten by waves," and suffered severe pain and distress until she ultimately died, her father says.

The 10-page complaint details the agony felt by a drowning person, whose urge not to breathe is so strong that only when carbon dioxide builds up in the blood is the brain compelled to take an involuntary breath.

"This spasmodic breath draws water into the mouth and windpipe, and either causes a laryngospasm - an immediate involuntary contraction of the muscles around the larynx - or flushes water directly into the lungs and extinguishes the waning transfer of oxygen into the blood," the complaint states. "Either way, the victim is consciously and fatally pained and enfeebled, asphyxiated, forced to give up her fight for life, and filled with the shock, dread, remorse, and self-reproach of imminent and inescapable death. Her now oxygen-deprived consciousness flickers out and cold, eternal darkness closes in."

The annual Full Crew Farallones Race was first held in 1907, and there had never been a fatality until 2012. There were 52 boats in this year's race.

James Bradford, the boat's owner, is named as the sole defendant in the wrongful death complaint.

Busch is represented by Michael Kelly of Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger.

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