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February 4, 2008

Sewage Spill in Richardson Bay

Nearly 3 million gallons of sewage oozed into the Bay on Thursday from a Mill Valley treatment plant.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

The hot topic of conversation in Sausalito this weekend wasn’t about which team would win ‘The Big Game’ but why it took nearly 20 hours for officials to notify the public that 2.7 million gallons of partially treated sewage from a Mill Valley treatment plant had spilled into Richardson Bay on Thursday. While it’s not unheard of for sewage spills to occur during times of heavy rain, one of this magnitude — 48 times larger than November’s Cosco Busan oil spill — seems worthy of being made public much earlier. Here’s the timeline:

  • January 31, 5:30 p.m. — The spill begins. An experienced plant operator failed to leave enough pumps on to deal with the heavy rains, and the alarm system designed to alert the operators of a spill then failed.
  • 8:30 p.m. — The spill is discovered by an employee monitoring the plant via computer.
  • 11:16 p.m. — State officials are notified. Various state and local agencies communicate back and forth but no public statements or warnings are made.
  • February 1, 2:00 p.m — The first public statement is released regarding the spill which then takes time to filter down to the public through various media. Meanwhile, divers are working in the contaminated waters and folks are taking advantage of the brief respite in the rain to head to the beaches.

Officials acknowledge there was a breakdown in communication and that the public should have been notified much sooner. They believe better protocol will be developed for future events. With contamination levels decreasing rapidly — possibly in no small part due to the continued rains — health officials are hopeful that beaches will be reopened soon.

Cruiser Found Dead in Mexico

We’re saddened to report that Alameda-based cruiser John Long, 78, was found dead in Puerto Madero, Mexico — just north of the Guatemalan border — on Saturday. Long’s 55-ft steel ketch Culin had run aground and his bruised body was found floating nearby. Locals reported seeing two people carrying suitcases off the boat, and early (and unconfirmed) reports say the boat appeared to be ransacked. Authorities have detained two people in connection with the case but would not say if they were the people seen leaving the boat. No word yet on exactly how Long died.

The Mexican Navy is also investigating whether Culin was being used for smuggling as a "false bottom" was found in the boat. We have to wonder about the validity of the alleged "false bottom" as all boats have weird and funky storage spaces. Alameda sailor Ben Mewes, who knew Long for more than eight years, says he’d "be surprised if any of that was going on. He was financially secure from good investing and was a good old guy." Mewes goes on to report that Long’s ultimate goal was to sail Culin to his hometown of Cork, Ireland.

We’ll keep you updated on this tragic story in ‘Lectronic and the March issue of Latitude 38. If you have any information on the case, or just a story or photo of Long you’d like to share, email LaDonna.

Wanderlust 3 Finishes in Under 11 Months

Mike, legally a parapalegic, unsnarls his chute off St. Barth about a week ago when he still had 1,100 miles to go in order to complete Wanderlust 3’s circumnavigation.

©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Mike Harker of Manhattan Beach reports that he completed his circumnavigation with his Hunter Mariner 49 Wanderlust 3 yesterday in the Bahamas. (He’d completed his personal circumnavigation earlier in Antigua.)

Harker had hoped to "make it around" in 11 months, but did better than that, taking just 10 months and 23 days. As you’ll read in our interview with him in the March issue, it’s something he says that anyone with common sense could do.

To put Harker’s trip in context, he took just 10 days longer than did Sir Robin Knox-Johnston when he won the first singlehanded, non-stop, around the world race with his Colin Archer Suhaili in 1969.

Not to mix apples and oranges, Knox-Johnston went around Cape Horn and never used his engine for propulson. Harker, on the other hand, went around via the Panama Canal, and on occasion did use his engine to move the boat. On the other hand, Harker luxuriated in port about half the time, while Knox-Johnston never stopped. In addition, Harker’s Wanderlust 3 is the picture of luxury — five electric winches, microwave, two flat screen televisions, full electronics — to Sir Robin’s ultra-basic boat.

My, how the world of ocean sailing has changed.

Harker’s boat will be on display and available for sailing at the Miami Boat Show, which starts of February 15.

Gitana 13 – Pit Stop at the Horn

The 110-ft maxi cat Gitana 13 is stopped, waiting patiently ‘behind the door’ as they put it. The door in this case is the Lemaire Channel, the final passageway to Cape Horn and the Pacific. As this was written, they had been hove-to near the mouth of the Lemaire Channel for a full day, under bare poles with the wheel tied off and the 10-man crew alternately resting, inspecting the boat, keeping watch, and checking with their weather routers back in France for any change in the conditions. In their last report, the wind was blowing 50 knots, with gusts up to 65. Fortunately, they are in an area protected from the 20- to 30-ft swells rolling past the Horn itself, as well as pounding the coast of Chile along their northern route.

The Gitana 13 crew are using their pit stop near Cape Horn to inspect every inch of the boat.

© 2008 Gitana S.A.

“Farther out, where we would be if we hadn’t decided to wait things out, it must be hell,” writes Nicholas Renaud. “And then the thought of sailors from bygone days who had to face the same storms . . . but they didn’t have any way to avoid them like we do today. How did they do it? Respect!”

Gitana 13 has covered 7,000 miles since leaving New York on January 16. She has another 7,000 to go to reach San Francisco on her quest for a new record for the Route de l’Or, the ‘route of gold’ named for the 49ers who sailed this route in the 19th Century. She was originally expected by February 20, although arrival anytime before about mid-March will break the current 57-day record, set in 1989.

The current bad weather is expected to pass through by Wednesday, and the Gitana crew hope to slip through the door and be on their way north before the next big low rolls in.

To keep up with their progress, log onto

Z-Fest Generates Funds and Fun

The SF-based Beneteau 42 Cirque got off to a good start but, like others, struggled to maintain position in the light air. Seen here approaching Piedra Negra.

©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

The annual Zihuatanejo SailFest drew to a close yesterday afternoon, just in time for some members of the 60-boat fleet to slip off and watch the Super Bowl. By all accounts the six-day event was a grand success, having accomplished its two primary goals: to show visiting cruisers a rollicking good time and raise a boatload of money for local schools. The final tally is not in yet, but it will easily be enough to make a substantial impact on the educational opportunities for disadvantaged kids who live in hillside communities surrounding Zihua Bay.

Looking like a cruiser invasion, the Parade of Sail glides toward Ixtapa.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

While many cruisers couldn’t be convinced to raise anchor and race their heavily laden boats around Friday’s 10-mile course, those who did gave it their all. The real challenge was to race to their rating in the light air, as the contest was set up as a pursuit race. As anticipated, Chuck VanderBoom’s Lake Havasu-based F-31 Boomerang smoked the fleet, with Tom and Wendy Hoffman’s well-named  Persistence, a Kelly Peterson 44 based in San Francisco, bringing up the rear, a full three hours later.

The very best students from three primary schools earned a ride aboard the Fountaine-Pajot 75 Picante, a local daysail boat, during the Parade of Sail.

©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

The big event Saturday was a Parade of Sail in which 24 cruising boats made a promenade around Zihua and Ixtapa Bays, with paying tourists and expats aboard. All funds, of course, went into the school fund administered by the non-profit Por Los Ninos. Notably, 100% of these funds go directly to help the kids, with all administration done by volunteers.

These young scholars from the Nueva Creación School seem genuinely happy to be receiving a primary school education.