By Ronnie Cohen
FAIRFAX, California (Reuters) - The Coast Guard is set to allow sailboat racing in the Pacific off northern California for the first time since five sailors died in a yacht wreck last month, but new safety rules will be in place.
Racing will resume with the Spinnaker Cup, which starts on Friday and goes from the San Francisco Bay area community of Belvedere to Monterey, the Coast Guard said.
The Coast Guard had stopped issuing permits for ocean racing while awaiting results of a U.S. Sailing Association investigation into the April 14 fatal accident in the Full Crew Farallones Race.
In that event, a large wave struck the 38-foot (11.6-meter) Low Speed Chase sailboat and swept crew members overboard as the ship rounded an island. Five people aboard the ship were killed, and three people survived.
In a separate tragedy on April 28, a sailboat on a yacht race from southern California to Mexico disappeared from a tracking system off the Mexican coastline, and the bodies of four crew members were later found in the area.
The Coast Guard was probing what led to those deaths, and had been looking at the possibility their ship hit rocks.
After the Sailing Association issued preliminary findings on the wreck, the Coast Guard and the sailing community fashioned safety changes intended to prevent a similar accident.
Under the changes, boats must maintain a safe distance from the rocky Farallon Islands, said Coast Guard spokesman Michael Lutz.
The permit for the Spinnaker Cup race also includes new measures for race organizers and the Coast Guard to coordinate and account for participating sailors, Lutz said. In addition, it includes a random post-race boat inspection to ensure minimum safety requirements were met, he said.
"The Coast Guard appreciates the tremendous support of the offshore race organizers and sponsoring yacht clubs during this safety stand-down," said Coast Guard Captain Cynthia Stowe, who is based in San Francisco.
(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Lisa Shumaker)