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January 11, 2008

Oil Barge Hits Richmond Bridge

A 300-ft oil barge carrying more than 2.6 million gallons of heavy black oil struck the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge last night around 6 p.m. Miraculously, not a drop of oil was spilled. The double-hulled barge was being maneuvered south through the tallest span of the bridge by two tugs in dense fog when it smashed into the western tower, damaging the fendering system but not the structure itself. The barge sustained serious damage and its cargo will be offloaded today. The Coast Guard will investigate how the accident happened — alcohol tests on the crew came back negative.

Joyon Nurses IDEC Toward Home

Francis Joyon’s trip up the Atlantic Ocean so far has been anything but an easy home stretch for his non-stop solo round-the-world record attempt. After battling the South Atlantic high, which whittled his pace down to as little as 139 miles one day, Joyon once again seemed to be reeling in the miles toward the finish off Brest, France. Pausing only to raise his daggerboard to avoid catching the line of the equator while crossing into the Northern Hemisphere, Joyon had bettered record-holder Dame Ellen MacArthur’s pace to that point by 12.5 days. But after a draining night fighting through the doldrums, a failed gennaker halyard forced Joyon to climb IDEC‘s rig.

Francis Joyon and IDEC are now both limping toward Brest.

© Jean-Marie Liot

That broken halyard may have saved his record attempt because when he reached the top of the rig, Joyon noticed that the starboard cap-shroud terminal was working loose from the mast, threatening to dismast IDEC. To prevent the rig from toppling in the confused seaway, Joyon descended, tucked in three reefs and changed to a small jib before heading back up the rig to try and stabilize the the shroud terminal. On the second ascent, he took a beating.

"The boat was moving so much at the time of my second climb, I injured my ankle," he relayed, now waiting for the Northeasterly trades to settle the sea state. "I’m taking time to recover and think of a solution."

For now, he’s using the gennaker halyard as a back-up shroud, but will need a more permanent fix in order to carry more sail and let his 97-ft trimaran IDEC stretch her legs. He is in contact with his shore team who are attempting to devise a fix that can be implemented with the minimal tools and materials onboard. Unless Joyon and his team can find a way to make a repair that will allow him to carry more sail, he might need all of that lead over MacArthur to reclaim the record, or simply get home intact. Stay tuned . . .

Hope for the Best

"I just returned from Ecuador after answering a Crew Wanted ad posted by a woman skipper," Dave Hohman wrote to us in an email. "It turns out that the gal is, in my opinion, a nut job and a drunk. Matt Olson and I answered the ad, and the woman said that if we came ASAP, she’d get us to Mexico as there was a weather window.

"To make a long story short, I had to buy a return ticket to the United States at a cost of $884. Matt, however, is stranded in Canoa, Ecuador. I believe the woman at least owes us return airfare. After all, it was her fault that we didn’t leave on schedule."

We are sorry that things didn’t turn out for Dave and Matt, but we try as diligently as possible to warn everyone that the world of Crew Lists — like the world of internet dating — is as unregulated as it gets. That means everyone has to be as diligent as possible in vetting all possibilities, and always expect the worst while hoping for the best.

If we were looking for a crew position and the skipper told us to hurry from the United States to Ecuador because there was a "weather window," that would be the end of it. After all, what kind of weather window would allow you to fly to Ecuador, provision and go through the boat, complete the time-consuming clearing out process, and then sail 1,500 miles to Mexico? You can’t let your dreams of adventure run roughshod over your common sense. Similarly, Dave’s complaint that they didn’t "leave on schedule" is a little bit naïve. What cruising boat ever left on schedule? 

As for Dave’s opinion that the skipper is a "nut job and a drunk," we can only imagine what she’d say about him. Maybe he’s right, but there’s no way for us to take sides in ‘he said, she said’ situations, particularly when we don’t know any of the people involved. 

Let this be a cautionary tale for all — before anyone flies off to a distant port to join an unknown boat and skipper, they should, at the very least, get recent letters of recommendation from previous crew, as well as a report from neighbors on the general condition of the boat and captain. If the skipper looking for crew isn’t willing to provide these, you’ve got to be skeptical of what kind of opportunity it really is. And no matter how glowing the report on the skipper and boat, we’d always assume that it was going to be a bust and that we’d have to pay for our trip home. Like we said, hope for the best, but you’d have to be foolish to not expect the worst.

Blue Heron Headed for Carnival

Jerry Eaton of the Belvedere-based Hallberg rassy 43 Blue Heron, the only West Coast boat to participate in the last Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, reported in January’s Changes that he, along with crew Wyman Harris and Walter Sanford, had a great time in the ARC. As fun as the on shore activities were in Las Palmas, Eaton says he’s ready for more — which we’re sure he’ll find at Trinidad’s wild and crazy Carnival, being held early this year on February 4 & 5. We hope to have a full report — with photographic evidence — in the March issue of Latitude.

“Help! I’m trapped by my safety device!” latitude/Andy
© Latitude 38 Media, LLC While idling in the cockpit of Tom Lilienthal’s Beneteau 411 Dreamseeker last fall en route to Cabo San Lucas, we got into a friendly debate about the use of inflatable lifejackets.
The West Coast-based Bug Trap was found bobbing off Kauai, Hawaii, on Sunday with no sign of her owner.
It’s the time of year when dozens of cruisers are currently preparing to embark on the so-called Pacific Puddle Jump from the Americas to French Polynesia.
You think it’s been cold lately sailing on San Francisco Bay? Try swimming in it — without a wetsuit!