Relatives and friends gather for yachtsmen

Tue, Apr 17, 2012, 01:00

FRIENDS AND relatives in Cork were coming to terms yesterday with the sail race accident off the US west coast on Saturday in which two Irish men were among four crew members still missing after falling overboard.

Elmer Morrissey (32), from the Highlands, Glounthaune, Co Cork, and his friend Alan Cahill (36), originally from Killeens, near Blarney on the outskirts of the city, are missing after the boat, named the Low Speed Chase, was hit by a series of waves as it rounded the Farallon Islands in the Pacific off San Francisco.

Three of the yacht’s eight crew members survived and one body was subsequently recovered from the water.

The crew were said to have been wearing life vests and foul weather gear.

Prayers were offered at the Sacred Heart Church in Glounthaune yesterday for the two missing Cork men, who were both living in the US at the time of the tragedy.

Mr Cahill was a professional yacht-racing sailor who was based in Tiburon, San Francisco, with his wife Shannon and their two young children.

Mr Morrissey was a PhD postdoctoral research fellow at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in San Francisco

At her home in Blarney yesterday, Nóirín Cahill, mother of Alan, said she was devastated by the loss of her son.

“We are totally heartbroken by this. Alan loved the US and he loved his sailing, but he kept in touch with his family and friends and loved to come back to Cork whenever he could.

“He has friends all over Ireland, especially in the sailing community.

“Everyone is devastated by this.

“Alan married an American girl called Shannon. They have two beautiful children and live out there [California]. He has been in the US for about 10 years now.”

Mr Cahill was an experienced sailor who had done a lot of open ocean racing. He operated out of San Francisco Yacht Club and took care of many of the racing and sail boats on site.

He attended secondary school at Christian Brothers College in Cork and was well known by the sailing community in the city.

Meanwhile, Fr John Paul Hegarty of Glounthaune parish, said locals were extremely upset when news started to filter through about the accident as Mr Morrissey’s parents, Michael and Ena, are well known in the community.

“Elmer’s family are abroad and are due home tomorrow,” said Fr Hegarty. “He has a sister, Kelda. We said special prayers at Mass in the Sacred Heart Church for Elmer and Alan.

“He and Alan would have been accomplished sailors. They were very good friends. Both Alan and Elmer were very fine sportsmen who liked the outdoors and were very athletic.”

A student friend of Mr Morrissey from University College Cork, Phil Oakley, said the sports enthusiast was an unforgettable person who was the “life and soul of parties”.

Mr Oakley knew Mr Morrissey through the hockey club in UCC, where the sports fan jokingly sported the number 13 shirt because he was “so unlucky with injuries”.

“Elmer was on the more adventurous side with sports. He also got in to running distances. We both got in to writing a sports blog at the same time and his was so funny.

“Whenever he was introduced anywhere we would say ‘this is Elmer’ and there was always the caveat that it was actually his real name. You wouldn’t forget him. One of our friends is getting married in Italy in August and he was due to be one of the best men. It was going to be a big reunion of all the people in college.”

Mr Morrissey undertook a degree in civil and environmental engineering in UCC in the late 1990s and later completed a PhD in building energy performance.

He spent all of 2004 on scholarship in California in Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, collaborating with experts in the field of building energy simulation.

In 2006 he joined the RPS Group in Cork, where he worked as an energy consultant. After five years with RPS, Mr Morrissey chose to return to California and academia, taking a research role at Lawrence Berkeley.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for UCC said yesterday her thoughts were with Mr Morrissey’s family and friends.

“Elmer is a very popular guy, who enjoys all outdoor activities. Our thoughts are with him and his family.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs said the Irish Consulate in San Francisco was liaising with the US coast guard and providing assistance to the missing men’s families.

San Francisco Yacht Club hosted a members-only candlelight vigil and prayer service on Sunday evening to honour the missing crew members.

The tragedy is the first fatal accident in the history of the San Francisco Yacht Club. Club director Ed Lynch said everyone involved in US offshore racing was devastated.

“The race community is a very tight-knit group of people and obviously this tragedy has reached far and wide around the world. It’s an event that will give everybody pause.

“ Alan was known as Irish Alan. He was really a terrific guy. He had that Irish wit.”

The dead crewman has been named as Marc Kasanin (46), from California.

The other missing crewmen are Jordan Fromm from California and Alexis Busch from California, the only woman on board.

The search was indefinitely suspended yesterday with the US coast guard saying the “window of survivability” had passed.