The Easterlings cruised Half Moon Bay last week as a practice run for their 33-foot sailboat, eyeing bigger and better fun on the horizon.
"It was their test run in the ocean," said Gina Ortolan, Beth Easterling's daughter. "They wanted to go to Cabo next year, after my mom retired."
The El Sobrante couple, Jeffrey and Beth, enjoyed their toys, family said Monday. They tooled around Marin County back roads in a Mazda Miata club, but their chief love was sailing.
"My mother was the happiest person I know," Ortolan said. "She was so happy after she met my stepfather."
Neither family nor authorities know how or why the experienced boaters wound up in the choppy waters near Ocean Beach in San Francisco on Sunday, where both died after apparently falling overboard.
A customer at San Francisco's famous Cliff House restaurant called the U.S. Coast Guard at 4:46 p.m. Sunday to report the Ranger sailboat drifting and apparently in distress about 500 yards from shore, said Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Jeremy Pichette.
The Coast Guard sent a boat to hail the vessel, without results, and so called for a helicopter to search the water.
Meanwhile, a second Cliff House customer called to report two people floating in the water on a raft or piece of debris. Soon after, Beth Easterling's body washed up on rocks south of Cliff House, Pichette said.
Rescuers then saw the body of a man floating face down near rocks, later identified as 59-year-old Jeffrey Easterling. Crews continued searching until 11 p.m. but found nobody else. The Coast Guard managed to get a rescuer on the drifting boat, confirming nobody was aboard.
"There was a lot of damage. Many of the windows were broken, and there was water in the hull," Pichette said.
The San Francisco Medical Examiner will need several weeks to determine the specific cause of death, a representative there said. The Coast Guard continues to investigate what happened.
Ortolan last spoke to her mother Wednesday, as the couple prepared for a cruise out of Pillar Point Marina in the Half Moon Bay area. They were going with a local yacht club, she said, and were expected back Sunday. Nobody answered when Ortolan called her mother Sunday afternoon.
Beth married Jeffrey in 2005 and moved from the San Jose area to El Sobrante, where he lived for about 30 years. Before retiring, he spent a career working for United Airlines and then for BART as an electrical technician. Beth worked as a software engineer for Oracle. Between them they have five children and one grandchild, Ortolan said.
Given the 8-foot swells, the Coast Guard deemed it unsafe to tow the Easterlings's vessel, named the Barcarloe. It eventually ran ashore near China Beach. The family will be responsible for salvage, Pichette said.
Sean Scallan, a public safety lifeguard at Ocean Beach, said a salvage outfit from Sausalito would be on the scene Monday evening.
The heavily damaged boat was leaking diesel fuel into the cabin, Scallan said, so authorities used a sponge material to contain it. The fuel posed no danger, he said.
"It's just the smell of fuel, so we took precautions," Scallan said.
Contact Karl Fischer at 510-262-2728. Follow him at Twitter.com/kfischer510.