Three San Francisco kiteboarders are being honored for their part in a daring rescue of mariners forced to abandon their sinking tugboat in turbulent, frigid waters off Ocean Beach last month.
On the afternoon of April 9, the 43-foot vessel Richardson Bay began taking on water about a half-mile offshore on its way to recover a skiff in Pacifica, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. In high winds and heavy seas, with waves crashing over the bow, the boat sank and its two occupants abandoned ship.
The U.S. Sailing Association announced Thursday that it will honor the kiteboarders with the Hanson Rescue Medal, an award named for a Chesapeake Bay sailor, and usually reserved for boaters.
“Mariners are meant to take care of each other, and these guys, all of them did,” said the association’s John Rousmaniere, a boating safety instructor and author of several books on boating history and sailing instruction.
Rousmaniere called the rescue “the most dramatic” of any awarded the medal.
The three kiteboarders — Jeff Spiller of Sausalito and Jeff Harrison and Paolo Frediani of San Francisco — initially came upon captain Roger Christiansen, 53, of Sausalito, who was in an inflatable raft nearing the pounding surf line. According to the association, Christiansen directed them to help his 53-year-old shipmate, who was in the water wearing a life ring.
Spiller, 36, boarded out to the second man while Harrison and Frediani tried to flag down a Coast Guard rescue boat, according to the association. Spiller pushed his board away while clinging to the man’s life ring with one arm and flying his kite with the other, until they met the Coast Guard vessel.
“Nobody could have done that in those conditions,” Rousmaniere said. “The mastery of their gear is truly impressive.” The three kiteboarders displayed the best of the sailing tradition that day, Rousmaniere said.
“That’s kind of like the code,” said Spiller. “If you see somebody in distress, you’re obligated to offer assistance.”
However, Christiansen’s concern for his shipmate cost his life, as his raft later capsized amid 10-foot swells. An 8½-hour Coast Guard search turned up nothing. Presumed drowned, his body washed ashore near Fort Funston about a week later.
The unidentified other passenger was eventually pulled from the water and treated for hypothermia.