An amazing series of still photos capturing the mechanics of a boat capsizing. The sailboat is making for the passage between the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge and Fort Point, a place notorious for standing waves and tide rips. The surf is breaking ten feet or higher. Once committed, there is no possibility of escape.

The boat is running before the wind, returning to the San Francisco  Bay. The photos show in chilling detail the sequence as the stern lifts to meet the overtaking wave, the bow plunges into the trough, and the mains’l is backwinded by the apparent wind shifting forward as the hull accelerates.

Capsize under the Golden GateThe helmsman is unable to hold her square to the wave. The bow skews to port and the wave drives the boat onto it’s beam ends, starboard side.

The capsize continues until the boat turns turtle, her rudder rising out of the surf. When the wave finally passes she is rolled upright but dismasted. The shattered remnant of her spar is still attached by the rigging.

For a few frames she floats evenly on her waterline, her deck swept clean of the crew. Her name is apparent on the port quarter. YachtSea. Then the next wave strikes on the starboard bow.

Again she’s turtled and again she regains her feet. This time down by the stern, her cockpit awash, the companionway hatch boards carried away, and the cabin open to each succeeding wave. She’s dragging her sails and standing rigging astern, streaming them like a sea anchor, which holds her vulnerable stern into the seas.

The next few frames document the inevitable. Her stern settles deeper while her bow rises. She rides in the relatively calm water inside the Gate, off the Presidio, but there’s nothing that will save her now except the timely arrival of a salvage crew with floats and powerful pumps. Instead, the Coast Guard arrives.

The Coast Guard have the equipment but not the mandate. Their job is to safeguard life. Property is left to the salvors.

The remarkable sequence of 113 photographs ends with only a few feet of the bow rising above the San Francisco Bay, buoyed by air trapped in the forepeak. I’ve seen other boats in similar situations. What little positive buoyancy remains is leaking through the cracks, out the hawse pipe, through the anchor locker. There is almost nothing that can be done to save her beside getting a line onboard and pulling her ashore.

The two crew members onboard YachtSea were rescued by surfers.


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