Friends confounded by death of singlehander

The mysterious death of experienced singlehander Tom Kirschbaum has puzzled his friends and fellow ocean racers in Southern California.  Kirschbaum, a veteran transpac skipper, was found floating in the water off Long Beach, CA on Wednesday; his boat, Feral, washed ashore in Venice, CA that afternoon.  There were no signs of foul play, and Kirschbaum appeared to have taken every safety precaution.

From the LA Times:

Sunday’s warning meant sustained winds of 39 mph and higher were expected offshore, Thorsson said. Nine-foot seas also were forecast, said Coast Guard Lt. Jim Hiltz, who added that his agency generally does not recommend that small boats go out in such conditions.

Indeed, those are abnormally rough seas for Southern California.

But Kirschbaum had experience with far worse conditions as a singlehanded racer, including during his trip to Hawaii, said LaDonna Bubak, editor of Latitude 38, a Northern California-based sailing magazine. “He was one of the most safety-conscious sailors I’ve ever met,” said Bubak, who knew Kirschbaum from the years his boat was based in San Francisco Bay.

Friends also noted that Kirschbaum’s boat, Feral, was a design widely recognized for its ocean-going capabilities.

Lambert, like Kirschbaum a member of the Pacific Singlehanded Sailing Assn., said he and other returning racers also crossed the channel from Catalina’s Emerald Bay to the mainland on Sunday. “These were not extreme conditions,” he said.

Kirschbaum’s death was a poignant coincidence. Local Coast Guard units, in addition to leading the search-and-rescue effort, were promoting Safe Boating Week, noting that Memorial Day kicks off the heavy summer boating season.

“It’s just kind of a heartbreaking reminder,” Thorsson said. “No matter how experienced you are, things can still happen.”

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By Ocean Navigator