By Ronnie Cohen
FAIRFAX, California (Reuters) - The U.S. Coast Guard has suspended sailboat racing in the Pacific Ocean off northern California following a yachting accident that killed five people west of San Francisco earlier this month.
Laura Munoz, executive director of the Yacht Racing Association of San Francisco Bay, told Reuters on Thursday that the Coast Guard stopped issuing permits for ocean races pending results of a report on the April 14 tragedy in the Farallone Islands.
The association subsequently rerouted a race scheduled for Saturday out of the open water and into San Francisco Bay, she said. Plans for future ocean sailboat contests remain uncertain.
"Everyone wanted to take a pause and make sure everything that can be done has been done," Munoz said.
Latitude 38, a sailing website, called the move unprecedented and said the orders came from Coast Guard Captain Cindy Stowe of San Francisco. Neither Stowe nor other Coast Guard officials could be reached for comment.
A series of powerful waves pummeled the 38-foot (11.6-meter) yacht Low Speed Chase during the Full Crew Farallones Race, sweeping crew members overboard and tossing the vessel onto a rocky island.
The Coast Guard recovered the body of one crewman, but three other men and a woman from the boat were lost at sea.
Bryan Chong, one of three men who survived the accident, posted a harrowing online account this week of the incident in hopes of spurring a discussion about sailboat safety.
He said the moments he spent overboard felt like he was in "a washing machine filled with boulders," and that his crew mates who perished, including the best man at his wedding, might have been saved had they worn safety harnesses.
San Francisco police and the district attorney investigated the tragedy and found no criminal negligence.
But Munoz said the Coast Guard informed her on Wednesday night that it had suspended ocean racing pending a U.S. Sailing Association report on the matter. Munoz said she hoped the report would be completed within a month.
Representatives of the U.S. Sailing Association were not immediately available for comment.
"We'll see what U.S. Sailing has to say, and then hopefully we can get back to it," Munoz said. "I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing for everybody to take a breath and see what can be done. We want to be sure our races are as safe as possible."
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Johnston)