Story of the Day

Sailor Lost on South Bar

December 1 - Golden Gate

It's not official yet, but it appears that the South Bar - west of the entrance to the Golden Gate - has claimed the life of yet another sailor. A sailor who, if the truth be told, probably had no business being out there.

Yesterday morning the Coast Guard was scheduled to train on the shallow ocean waters of the Potato Patch. When they got out there, they called it off. And for good reason, as it was breaking with 25-foot seas generated by a nasty mid-Pacific storm. Conditions were so severe that waves were breaking all the way across the Bonita Channel, the normally navigable stretch of water between the Potato Patch and the Marin Headlands. The dreadful conditions weren't a major surprise to the Coast Coast, as hazardous sea warnings had been in effect for two days.

Nonetheless, later in the afternoon the 46-year-old male owner of the Vancouver-based Tayana 37 'Sea Major' and two crew, one male and one female, headed out the Gate with the intention of sailing to Monterey. (The names of the three have not yet been released.) Whether they were aware of the horrible seas, that they were going out during an ebb (which would magnify the danger dramatically), and the severe hazard of the South Bar in such conditions, is not clear. But they were to learn all too soon.

According to a report by the survivors, they reached buoy #8 of the main shipping channel, which is the closest one in on the south side of the channel. At that point they headed south - which might well have been the worst thing they could have done, as it soon put them at the outer edge of the South Bar. While all of the South Bar becomes hazardous in big seas, the outer edge gets what the Coast Guard calls 'first generation' waves, which break the hardest.

After traveling two miles south, 'Sea Major' took a severe knockdown at about 4:30 pm. The female crewmember was down below. The owner was at the wheel and the other male crewmember was in the cockpit with him, but neither was wearing a harness or lifejacket. The crewmember reportedly went below to get safety gear, at which time the boat was hit by an even more severe wave - it was only blowing 10 knots at the time - and was knocked over even further than the time before. Water filled the cockpit and poured down the companionway. When the boat righted and the male crewmember returned to the cockpit, both the ship's wheel and the owner/skipper were gone. Man overboard equipment was immediately deployed, and the male crew rushed to install the emergency tiller. As you can imagine, by the time that had been done in such terrible conditions, he and the woman crew had lost all sight of the skipper. It didn't help that near darkness and fog reduced visibility to almost zero. The Coast Guard was called immediately.

It took about 15 minutes for Coast Guard Golden Gate to scramble one of their new 47-footers from the base by the North Tower of the bridge. There was a slight delay as the conditions required that a qualified surfman be on the boat. In addition, two Coast Guard helicopters were immediately sent out, and the San Francisco Police Department launched their boat - a prototype of the Coast Guard 47-footer - from Yerba Buena. The helicopters were on the reported scene quickly, but given the darkness and thick layer of fog, could see nothing.

Conditions were so bad that it took the Coast Guard's 47-footer - this is the brand new, state of the art, made for these conditions, model - almost an hour to reach the scene. The SFPD 47-footer, with two police officers and one Coastie, arrived on the scene about 20 minutes later. By this time, the remaining 'Sea Major' crew had abandoned the search and were headed toward the Gate. Vessel Traffic Service tracked them on radar, and at one point had to warn them that they were getting too close to Seal Rocks.

At the Coast Guard dock today: The green-hulled sailboat on the left is 'Sea Major'; the white boat on the right is one of the 47-ft Coast Guard rescue boats.

Photo Latitude/Andy

By this time, the terrible conditions at the South Bar were becoming too much for the crew of the SFPD boat. The SFPD do a lot of rescue work on the Bay, but don't train in the treacherous surf of the Potato Patch and South Bar - something the Coast Guard does on a regular basis. As it turned out, the two police weren't able to command the vessel. The one Coastie aboard could, but he began suffering from hypothermia and severe dehydration. Coast Guard Golden Gate had to send out their second and last 47-footer to rescue the police rescue boat. About the same time, Golden Gate dispatched their 21-ft RIB to rendezvous with 'Sea Major' near Mile Rock in order to escort them in. At this point, Station Golden Gate was out of boats.

As the one 47-footer continued to search for the lost skipper in near impossible conditions, the other 47-footer rendezvoused with the SFPD inside the South Bar. The condition of the crew on the SFPD boat was so bad that the rescuers of the rescuers decided to risk transferring an EMT Coastie to the police boat - despite the rough conditions, the darkness and the fog. Somehow they managed to pull it off. The EMT treated the Coastie on the police boat as best he could, then took the helm to rush the boat back in. When they arrived at Station Golden Gate, an ambulance was waiting to take the Coastie to Marin General Hospital where he is now recovering. About that time, Station Golden Gate noticed a flare over Richardson Bay. They rushed in response, but found nothing.

'Sea Major' and her two remaining crew arrived at Station Golden Gate about 6:30 p.m.

Despite 52° water, the Coast Guard continued the search with the 47-footer and two helicopters through much of the night and into today. In addition, the Park Service, SF Fire Department, and SFPD having been searching Ocean Beach hoping that the skipper washed ashore alive. It's now been almost 18 hours since he went overboard, so the chances appear to be slight that he'll be found alive.

Folks, we beg you to use common sense when sailing in the winter. Don't ever go out the Gate in winter without checking the weather. Be very cautious before going out the Gate on an ebb in the winter. Never, ever, ever go out during hazardous seas in the winter. If for some reason you find yourself out there in such conditions, stay in deep water, which means either further offshore or in the main shipping channel. If conditions get bad enough, waves do break all the way across the shipping channel. If you don't wear a lifejacket normally, do so in such conditions. And have your harness on before you get in trouble. A personal strobe can be a lifesaver in such conditions. We don't know all the facts in this case, but preliminary indications are that the boat had no business being out there and the skipper violated some of the most basic safety standards. If he is indeed lost, may his tragic loss be a lesson to everyone.

That 'Sea Major' went out in such conditions also exposed a good number of Coasties and two police officers to risk their health and lives. Searching for a swimmer in 25 foot breaking seas at night in fog is extremely dangerous, and it was extremely hard on the boats and crews. So use common sense by not risking your life or theirs.

Life on the Hook

December 1 - Richardson Bay
The Friday edition of the Marin section of the San Francisco Chronicle had an interesting and somewhat lyrical article by Alex Horvath about living aboard on the hook in Richardson Bay.

Two of those interviewed were Jim Allison and Corie Cotton of the 29-foot Pearson 'Montana'. Allison used to pay $400 a month to keep the boat in a marina - presumably Pelican - until they started to rebuild the harbor. Allison and Cotton noted some pros and cons of living on the hook. On the positive side, it's cheap. On the negative side, they say it's 10 degrees colder than ashore, on stormy nights you don't get any sleep, and sometimes your boat isn't where you left it. "This is not a viable alternative for someone who is simply looking for cheap housing," warned Allison. They say the tough living conditions did result in a strong sense of community.

Another featured anchor-out was Robert Legere of the well-equipped 75-foot schooner 'Chantal'. Legere claims to have cruised much of the world, but says he likes to come back to Sausalito "because it's one of the greatest places in the world to meet women who just want to go cruising." Legere admitted he was looking for a "long-haired heater" - his term for a new girlfriend. Preferably a blonde. It seems to us that Sausalito used to be one of the greatest places to meet women who wanted to go cruising, but that was in the '60s and '70s. Of course, maybe Legere knows something we don't.

Anchor-Outs off Strawberry Point

Photo Latitude/Andy

Anyway, we thought it was an fairly accurate and balanced article - with the exception of the fact that Horvath neglected to mention that it's illegal to keep a boat on the hook or a mooring in Richardson Bay without a permit. And no permits have been issued. Not that this seems to have stopped anyone.


Is Your Boat Headed to La Paz?

December 1 - La Paz, BCS

"Hi, my name is Brigitte Packer and I live in La Paz part time where I help at the women's center/clinic. Planned Parenthood in Santa Rosa here in California donated a big pelvic exam chair to the center. However, it's too big for a car. Does anyone know of a big boat that might be willing to take something like this to La Paz? We could get it to the boat up here, and from the boat in La Paz to the center. My phone is (415) 332-8025. Thanks for any help."


December 1 - The Pacific Ocean and Cyberspace

Who is out making passages in the Pacific and what kind of weather are they having? Check out YOTREPS - 'yacht reports' - at


America's Cup

December 1 - Auckland, New Zealand

We've visited New Zealand several times, and sailed with a number of Kiwis. We've always thought they were the most sporting and fair-minded a group of people as we've ever met. However, their current handling of a Swiss America's Cup application makes them - as least some of them - appear to be vengeful wussies content to hide behind lawyers and minor quirks in the law.

The deal is this: Swiss billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli bought off Russell Coutts, Brad Butterworth, and three other top Kiwis from the victorious Kiwi America's Cup team. But so far, the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron has as yet refused to accept Bertarelli's Swiss challenge, saying it may not comply with the rules. What rule? That the challenging yacht club hold an annual race on the ocean. Switzerland, some clever Kiwi lawyer no doubt discovered, is landlocked.

It takes forever to develop a great reputation, and just a short time to ruin it. So let's hope the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron decides to contest the cup on the water instead of the courtroom before it's too late. You guys are becoming an embarrassment to your country!

Weather Updates

December 1 - Pacific Oceans

San Francisco Bay Weather

To see what the winds are like on the Bay and just outside the Gate right now, check out

California Coast Weather

Looking for current as well as recent wind and sea readings from 17 buoys and stations between Pt. Arena and the Mexican border? Here's the place - which has further links to weather buoys and stations all over the U.S.:

Pacific Ocean Weather

You can view the University of Hawaii Department of Meteorology satellite picture by clicking here.

Pacific Sea State

Seas are normal in the Pacific. But you might check at:
For another view, see

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