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April 23, 2008

Crashing the Party

She looks bad here, but Gitana Vela suffered relatively minor damage in her double dismasting.

© 2008 Jenny Haldeman

Anyone who was out sailing last Saturday knows that it was really windy in the afternoon. Up to 60-knot blasts were reported atop some of the mountain peaks, and we’re pretty sure a few gusts in the high 40- or low 50-knot range made it down to water level. Except for the usual crazy racers, the conditions had lots of boats running for cover to protected anchorages or marinas. Among them was Bruce Allen’s Mariner 31 Gitana Vela. Bruce and buddies Jay Virok, Jay Hickman and Doug Workmaster had planned to rendezvous with other boats at China Camp to celebrate the birthday of another friend. By early afternoon, they were almost there. Motorsailing north under jib and jigger (jib and mizzen only), Bruce says the boat was really handling the choppy conditions well — until the masts fell down.

“The first ‘bang’ was the windward (port) spreader breaking,” says Allen. “The second bang was the mast.” The box-section wooden spar broke right above the spreaders and toppled into sort of an A-frame configuration on deck. About two seconds after that, the mizzen teetered back and fell over the stern. (Amazingly, it hadn’t broken, it just sort of hinged backwards off its deck step.) And about two seconds after that, a sheet wrapped in the prop, stopping the engine.

Miraculously, no one was hurt. They radioed the Coast Guard, who sent a helicopter which stood by until the San Rafael Police boat arrived and towed them into Paradise Cay, where Bruce’s wife (and boat partner) Karen arrived to make doubly sure everyone had all their fingers and toes. Bruce and the guys never did make the party. But they still ended the day in something of a celebratory mood. “We broke out a nice bottle of wine, made a toast to cheating death and enjoyed one of the best steak dinners I’ve ever had,” says Bruce.

Gitana Vela was insured. She’ll be getting a new mast, new rigging of course, and a stern pulpit (which got mashed). Otherwise, except for a few divots out of the deck here and there, the boat really didn’t suffer that much damage. The jib and mizzen sails just need a couple small patches, and the mizzen mast itself will be reused. (Both spars were the originals from when the boat was launched in Japan in 1971.) Bruce hopes to be out sailing again soon.

More Pirate Attacks off Somalia

It appears to be high season for Somalia’s pirate industry. On Sunday, just days after the 30-member crew of a French megayacht were released and several pirates arrested by French forces, pirates seized control of the 250-ft Spanish fishing trawler Playa de Bakio in the Gulf of Aden. The 26-member crew are being held captive while officials wait for the pirates’ demands.

Another pirate attack in the same region on Monday, this time against a Japanese oil tanker, was thwarted by a German warship, while security forces stormed a hijacked Dubai-flagged cargo ship on Tuesday, freeing the 16 hostages and arresting seven pirates. Those seven are now facing the death penalty in their homeland.

But Somalia’s heyday of piracy may be quickly coming to a close as several nations, led by the U.S. and France, are pushing hard for a United Nations resolution that will allow member nations to arrest and prosecute pirates in one of the most important — and dangerous — shipping zones in the world. Currently, nations are allowed to pursue pirates only in international waters, so once they reach Somalia’s territorial coastal waters, they’re off limits. For their part, the largely impotent Somali government supports the plan. “The Somali government asks the international community to take action against piracy,” Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein told the Agence France-Presse.

Cosco Busan Pilot Indicted

John Cota, the pilot aboard the Cosco Busan when the ship “touched” the Bay Bridge last November, was indicted on felony charges this week.

© Jeff Berman

Federal prosecutors have indicted pilot John Cota for alledgedly lying to Coast Guard officials about prescription drugs he was taking. Cota was on the bridge of the Cosco Busan when it spilled 58,000 gallons of bunker oil after making contact with the Bay Bridge last November. The indictment didn’t include any details about the drugs, but according to an Associated Press report, the NTSB was told last week that Cota was prescribed pills, including the anti-anxiety drug Lorazepam, migraine drug Imitrex, wakefulness drug Provigil and pain reliever Darvon compound 65.

The AP also quoted Cota’s attorney Jeff Bornstein as calling the indictment "unprovable" and said they "bear no relevance," to the spill. Bornstein was also quoted as saying that Cota had passed drug and alcohol tests administered two hours after the spill.

Mariners Rescue Downed Aviator and His Plane

After the float plane crashed, it didn’t float very well, and needed to be hand-carried to shore. Thanks to Dick Roland of Mar Si 2, a former cruiser and Tripui resident, who made the announcement on Channel 16, and Todd Butler, who was first on the scene with his small aluminum boat, both the pilot and plane were saved.

© 2008 Bob Norquist

Mariners are used to coming to the rescue of other mariners, but coming to the rescue of pilots — and their airplanes — is certainly more rare. But it happened recently.

"Puerto Escondido cruisers and local residents responded quickly on April 19 when there was a report over the VHF radio that a small plane had crashed near Juancalito Beach in Bahia Chuenque," advises Bob Norquist, who had been staying aboard his boat The Dark Side at Singlar Marina in Puerto Escondido.

"The two-passenger Challenger float plane had crashed about one mile offshore. The Mexican pilot, who was uninjured except for his pride, said he’d been flying at a low altitude when a downdraft caused an unexpected loss in altitude. Then a wing tip hit the water, tore up the plane, and caused it to start sinking immediately.

The cause of the crash is still unknown, but many folks believe the pilot had become so overcome with excitement about Loreto Fest starting at the beginning of May that he was unable to concentrate on anything else – even the plane’s altitude.

© 2008 Bob Norquist

"As soon as the rescuers arrived on Jet Skis, pangas and dinghies, lines were quickly attached to the plane — which by that time was already beneath the surface. The banged up plane was towed to shore by three pangas and a cruiser’s dinghy, then pulled up the beach by a four-wheel drive vehicle."

Norquist, a longtime cruiser, said it was just another example of why people should keep their VHF radios on all the time.

A seeing eye dog aboard the Bay Area Association of Disabled Sailors’ boat greets a new friend on the docks of Strictly Sail Pacific.
Yankee with a bone in her teeth at the Master Mariners Regatta. latitude/JR
©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC San Francisco Bay is home to one of the largest, coolest and most active fleets of classic yachts anywhere in the world — the Master Mariners Benevolent Association.
Seen here days before setting sail from La Cruz, outside Puerto Vallarta, Gina and Paul are headed home to New Zealand.