May 5, 2008

The Great Vallejo Race

Sailing down San Pablo Bay in So Cal summer conditions for this year’s Great Vallejo Race.

© Peter Lyons

The Great Vallejo Race and YRA Season Opener was treated to some perfect Southern California-like weather Saturday, as the fleet of 250 starters headed north on this annual 21-mile Nor Cal classic. Despite the usual holes — like in the lee of Angel Island — the breeze was reported to be consistently in the neighborhood of ten knots over the course this year.

headin’ north and lookin’ good.

© Peter Lyons

As of 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, YRA’s Laura Paul was hard at work in the scoring office generating results and waiting for 50 boats to cross the finish line. For full results of both Saturday and Sunday’s 15-miler back to the Bay, check out If you think you’ve found an error in the scoring, your deadline for filing a discrepancy form is tomorrow at 5 p.m.

The packed Vallejo raft-up turning the basin into one giant, boat-to-boat party.

© Peter Lyons

Know Why You’re Hoisting that Margarita?

Yeah, okay, so that’s probably a pina colada, but you get the idea.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

While the origins of religious holidays are generally well known to those who observe them, the roots of secular celebration days are often only dimly understood. How many trick-or-treaters know the origins of Halloween? How many green beer drinkers can tell you what St. Patrick is famous for? What’s the difference between Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day?

But today, ‘Cinco de Mayo’, is probably the most often misunderstood quasi-holiday of all. Since we know many a salty sailor out there will be hoisting a Margarita or two this afternoon, ostensibly to help our neighbors to the south celebrate, we thought it our duty to remind them of the holiday’s true origins.

First, let’s be clear that despite all the annual May 5 hoopla, Cinco de Mayo does not celebrate Mexico’s independence from Spain (the equivalent of our Fourth of July). It actually commemorates a great battlefield victory in 1862 — at Puebla — over an occupying French army, which was sent by Napoleon III to take over the country due to unpaid debts. Talk about a hostile takeover!

It was actually five more years before the Mexicans completely ousted the French from their lands, but the victory at Puebla was such a phenomenal underdog triumph, that it has always been fondly remembered. Although outnumbered and outgunned, the Mexicans, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza, first diverted and slaughtered the French cavalry, then sent a herd of stampeding cattle into the French infantry, who were struggling through heavy mud after a torrential downpour. Mexican machetes, fueled by patriotism — and, who knows, maybe a little tequila — finished them off. Americans were completely uninvolved, by the way, as they had their hands full fighting their own Civil War.

So viva Zaragoza! And viva Mexico! But if you are inspired to celebrate today, along with the 25 million U.S. residents of Mexican ancestry, we strongly urge you to do your imbibing at home or at the dock, rather than out on the water.

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Folkboat Sinks Off Sausalito

Not exactly your classic port-starboard situation. In fact, in this case, we’d definitely give the port-taker right of way.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

A maiden voyage is typically a memorable event. But four Bay Area residents will certainly never forget their first sail aboard Elenaki, their fiberglass-hulled Folkboat which sank off Sausalito yesterday. Boat partners Jim McKee and Markos Kounalakis with his five- and six-year-old boys set out from Sausalito Yacht Harbor after christening Elenaki, when at about 12:30 p.m. they noticed the boat’s freeboard diminishing.

"We did not have a lot of reaction time," Kounalakis said. "As I went down to grab the radio, the interior was already full of water — the boat sank within 30 seconds."

A passing good samaritan heard Elenaki‘s mayday and picked the four out of the water in what Kounalakis said was about a minute and a half. "The man and his wife pulled it off with great alacrity," he said. "By the time we were aboard, the Coast Guard had already been called and showed up within five minutes." Once aboard they were treated to blankets and towels. Kounalakis told us he’d first learned to sail while a graduate student in Sweden in 1980 — fittingly on a Folkboat, albeit a wooden one. He said that on Sunday they’d made sure all the seacocks were closed prior to departing the dock. He couldn’t be sure of the source of the leak, but suspected it was in the outboard-motor well — which housed a brand new outboard no less. Currently he’s working on salvaging the boat, which is sitting on her keel with sails still up and showing, just inside the Richardson Bay Channel entrance dolphin.

As for Kounalakis, who’s published Washington Monthly Magazine for the last seven years, and has a nationally-syndicated weekly radio show on XM station POTUS ’08, he doesn’t sound discouraged by Sunday’s adventure. "This is not the bookend," he said. "There is more to come and more adventures to be had — and we want all of them to be above waterline."