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August 4, 2008

Close Calls in King Harbor Race

Judy and Bill Webster of the J/37 Sidekick bookend Judy-Rae Karlsen, the Rattle & Hum crewmember they and their crew pulled from the Pacific after a half hour swim. Humble Bill and Judy didn’t want their photo taken, but we made them pose.

©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

There was some unwanted excitement in last Friday’s 36th annual 81-mile Santa Barbara to King Harbor Race, as two woman went overboard from the Antrim 27 Rattle & Hum and three men found themselves standing on the overturned hull of the Corsair Sprint 750 Existential Blowout.

The women overboard incident in the 107-boat fleet was potentially the most serious, as one of them, Judy-Rae Karlson of Long Beach, ended up swimming in the open ocean for approximately 30 minutes. Fortunately, her prayers were answered just before dark when she was miraculously spotted and picked up by another racing boat.

The Kernan 55 Malolo and one of the older Pendragons enjoy the wind that finally came up just before Anacapa Island.

©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

As is common in the King Harbor Race, there were very light winds for the first few hours until the fleet rounded the turning mark of Anacapa Island. It was between Anacapa and Pt. Dume where the wind piped up and the two boats had problems.

Karlsen was one of four women — Sue Senescu, Betsy Crowfoot and Valerie Navarro being the others — racing aboard Senescu’s Antrim 27. Calling themselves the "Nauti Chicas", they’d all done at least one TransPac and will be racing the Senescu family’s new custom Antrim 40 in next year’s TransPac. Flying the light boat’s biggest chute in winds they estimate to have been over 30 knots and, after hitting speeds of over 16 knots, the boat suddenly rounded up violently. So violently that helmswoman Senescu and trimmer Karlsen were pitched across the boat and into the water.

With Rattle & Hum pinned on her side — a position she would remain in for another 10 to 15 minutes — Crowfoot kicked the MOM device in an attempt to launch it. She was then faced with the terrible decision whether to try to save Senescu or Karlsen. She told Latitude that she decided to try to save Senescu because Karlsen didn’t seem as panicked.

Malolo stands by Existential Blowout, which flipped two miles off the County Line surf spot.

©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

With the gravity-activated MOM device not immediately activating because the boat remained so far over on its ear, Crowfoot and Navarro struggled to get Senescu back aboard. After a considerable amount of time, they finally resorted to tying a big bowline around her upper torso and womanhandling her back onto the boat. By the time they succeeded, Karlsen, who, like the others hadn’t been wearing a PFD, was an estimated two miles astern. Crowfoot quickly put out a dramatic call to the Coast Guard on 16 to advise them that they had one of their crew overboard and no longer in sight.

When Karlsen went overboard at 7:15 p.m., she was tangled in lines that kept her pinned beneath the boat. As Rattle & Hum continued to move forward rapidly — Karlsen estimates at what would seem to be a very fast 11 knots — she was engaged in a life and death struggle gasping for air. Initially she got free enough to reach the surface, but continued to have trouble breathing. After what Karlsen estimates to have been a quarter of a mile, she decided she had no choice but to let go of the boat’s lines. With Rattle & Hum out of control and the two aboard trying to save Senescu, the boat rapidly left Karlsen in its wake.

Existential Blowout skipper Mike Maloney, the last crewmember on the trimaran, being pulled to Profligate on the catamaran’s dinghy.

Cherie Sogsti
©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

During the 20 to 30 minutes Karlsen swam in the fading light, she saw two boats pass within what she estimates was about 10 boat lengths. Neither saw her or heard her desperate calls for help. With darkness and her body temperature falling, she began to pray hard for a miracle. Her prayers seem to have been answered, for at that time, and for no particular reason, Bill Webster of the King Harbor YC-based J/37 Sidekick went below and turned his VHF on to channel 16. When he did, he heard the crew of Profligate advising the Coast Guard that they’d picked up two of the three crewman from an overturned trimaran Existential Blowout, and that they were about to go back for the third. It was then that Crowfoot broke in to report that Rattle & Hum had lost one of her crew overboard and that they weren’t able to head back and search for her at that time.

Webster quickly realized that his boat was near the reported position of the woman overboard. He alerted the crew. "There she is!" one of them soon cried out. The Sidekick crew quickly doused the spinnaker, then the main in the estimated 22-24 knots of wind, and turned on the engine. They missed Karlsen on the first pass, but got her with their Lifesling on the second. It had taken them about 10 minutes from the time they saw her to pick her up. It was an example of expert seamanship. "I’m alive and safe today because of them," Karlsen said. The only sad thing is that the rescue meant that it would break the humble Webster’s record of 18 straight finishes in what is often a very frustrating light air race.

Once aboard Profligate, vascular surgeon Demetri Macris received anti-hypothermia treatment from the medical team on Profligate: from left, Dona de Mallorca of Profligate, Heather Corsaro of Upsychia, Mary of Capricorn Cat, Cherie of Sirocco, and Rachel of Rhapsody.

©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Despite her near death experience, Karlsen looked calm and collected in the yacht club when we saw her just five hours later. She spoke about the incident in a matter-of-fact-manner, and seemed absolutely none the worse for the wear. Sidekick owners Bill and and his wife Judy, who were also at the club, tried to play down the roll they played, saying their crew deserved all the credit. Baloney! It might have been a team effort, but the captain was leading the team.

Mistakes made? The gals admitted to not having their PFDs on in windy conditions, noting they were just about to put them on. They also felt they’d probably waited a little too long, as is common for sailors, to reduce sail. After all, it was about to get dark, at which time the wind usually lightens up significantly. Crowfoot vows she’ll never again sail without a sharp knife handy with which to cut a spinnaker halyard or sheet in order to quickly get rid of a chute in an emergency. Nonetheless, the morning after the incident, none of the four women were having second thoughts about doing next year’s TransPac about Senescu’s new Antrim 40 box rule boat.

About 20 minutes before Karlsen and Senescu had gone overboard, and a little further down the course, Texans Mike Maloney, Terry Lindemann, and Demitri Macris had a problem of their own with Existential Blowout. Maloney, who owns "five or six sailboats," including a cruising cat in Mallorca, and who is building a racing trimaran, had trucked the amped-up Corsair 750 to the West Coast earlier for about six races. Lindemann who, like Maloney, is a lawyer, often crews with him. Joining them for his first sail was vascular surgeon Macris.

Unfortunately, it was new racer Macris who was at the helm when Existential Blowout, which had been doing up to 16 knots, took off down a steep wave. Lindemann remembers the rudder as coming "four feet clear of the water" and therefore being useless. When nobody eased the main, the tri tripped over the leeward and main hulls. While his crewmates were thrown clear, Lindemann was trapped underneath the cockpit, at which point his automatic-inflating lifevest inflated. He was able to get out from under the boat, but it wasn’t easy and he’d  had a fright. Like the others, he then climbed atop the overturned tri to relative safety.

The auto-inflating lifevests did not have a good record on Existential Blowout. While Lindemann’s did inflate, only half of Maloney’s did until he was climbing up the back steps of Profligate, and neither of the chambers inflated on Macris’ vest.

Once everyone was rescued and safe, the Ventura County Fire Department showed up with a jet-ski and sled. Notice the cool green dye.

Heather Corsaro
© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Fortunately for the Texans, Bob Locke’s Kernan 55 Malolo was just behind them, and her crew either saw the tri flip or saw it upside down shortly afterwards. As the Malolo crew dropped their chute and main, we on Profligate first became aware of the overturned tri, so we doused our sails too and rushed to the scene. Malolo and Profligate circled the distressed trio to make sure everyone was accounted for and in good physical condition. The trio indicated they wanted to stay with the boat until the Coast Guard arrived.

But after about 20 minutes, the cold wind and water had taken their toll, and with darkness approaching, the trio wisely asked to be taken off. Because Profligate has twin engines, two transom stairways, and an easily launchable dinghy, we took over the rescue operation while Malolo stood by. It was easy. Our crew dumped the dinghy into the water, and dragged it far behind the cat with a long line until it touched Existential Blowout. Macris and Lindemann made it in on the first pass. Maloney on the second pass. The men were cold and Macris was a little seasick, but not in bad shape. To make sure Macris didn’t suffer from hypothermia while in the cockpit, six of the Profligate gals got in close and shared their body heat.

Thanks to his bravado, buff body, tight little black uniform, and cute yellow helmet, Scuba Steve had the Profligate women swooning. Until his boss called him back, that is.

Heather Corsaro
©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Once the three were safe aboard Profligate, it got kind of funny, as every public service agency in Southern California seemed to want to get in on the action. Parked on the side of the two-mile-distant Pacific Coast Highway were about 20 impotent fire trucks, ambulances and what have you, all with their red lights flashing. Then there was a fire department chopper that did a flyover, and would return a half hour later to do it again.

Best of all was a two-man fire department team from Ventura on a jet-ski that was pulling a sled. The two guys were decked out in full gear, including helmets and waterproof radios. Without asking any questions —  such as did anybody need any help — a buff young man who came to be known as ‘Scuba Steve’, dove in the water, swam over to Profligate and scambled up the transom steps. The seven women in the crew wouldn’t have swooned more if it had been David Hasselhoff himself.

Since there was nothing for him to do, and his boss had putted over to have a look at the trimaran, Scuba Steve didn’t mind chatting with the gals. But when the boss man returned and saw him posing for photos, Scuba Steve was told in no uncertain terms to get his ass back on the jet-ski. Just to make sure the rescue had been overkilled enough, two more public safety guys on another a jet-ski showed up. We’re cynical, but we think they were padding their rescue statistics. After arrangements had been made to salvage the tri, we set a chute and resumed racing . . . until the wind died completely inside Santa Monica Bay.

All’s well that ends well, and no sailors getting injured or killed was indeed a good ending. The lessons to take from the incident are the classics: reduce sail in timely manner, have good drivers on the helm when it gets dicey, always be ready on the main sheet, have a sharp knife ready, and don’t trust supposedly auto-inflating lifejackets.

As for us on Profligate, it was about the eighth time we’ve done the King Harbor Race, and despite the traditional light air frustrations at the beginning, we had a great time and love the course. We’ll be back next year — and we bet that everyone on Existential Blowout and Rattle & Hum will too.

Have fun out there, but know your limits and be safe!!!

Solo TransPac Final Results

The fleet of the 2008 Singlehanded TransPac enjoyed a memorable awards ceremony Saturday night.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

With the arrival of Barbara Euser’s Islander earlier in the day, the Singlehanded TransPac fleet was ready for a party Saturday night. The awards dinner was held poolside at the posh Princeville Hotel overlooking Hanalei Bay, and everyone reported having a fantastic time.

It was there that the official results for the race were finally revealed:

Multihulls: Hecla, Hammerhead 54, Jeff Lebesch (1 boat)
Large Monohulls: Alchera, J/120, Mark Deppe (4 boats)
Sport Boats: Polar Bear, Olson 30, Eric Thomas (4 boats)
Medium Monohulls: Haulback, Spencer 35, Jim Kellam (6 boats)
Small Monohulls: Wildflower, Wylie Custom 27, Skip Allan (5 boats)
First to Finish: Dogbark, Open 60, Al Hughes
First Overall (corrected time): Wildflower

Skip Allan was presented with several awards by Synthia Petroka and Sylvia Seaberg, including First Overall.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

At every post-finish get-together, talk tends to revolve around the race itself. Perhaps inevitably, many conversations turned to the racers’ yet-to-finish comrade Ruben Gabriel, who’s limping in under jury rig after losing his mast. Race Chair Synthia Petroka announced that, though he will be officially listed as FAD (Finished After Deadline), Gabriel will still receive his belt buckle as a finisher of the race. In a show of support, the other finishers climbed on stage and chanted "Spar-ky! Spar-ky! Spar-ky!" while Gabriel’s girlfriend Robbie Murphree videotaped the spectacle for him. At last report, he was making 3.3 knots in building winds about 285 miles out.

Look for the story in the September issue of Latitude 38. For full results, go to

Ha-Ha Preview and Reunion This Weekend

Tammy, a Montessori teacher and veteran of last year’s Ha-Ha, hopes to make the Preview and Reunion to speak on horticulture on cruising boats.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

The Grand Poobah would like to remind all past and future Ha-Ha participants that there will be a super-casual Ha-Ha Preview and Reunion at Two Harbors, Catalina, this Saturday evening starting at 6 p.m. We’ll have the BBQ going for a potluck, door prizes from sponsors such as West Marine and Blue Latitude Press, a super new slide show of past Ha-Ha’s, and we’ll answer all your questions about the Ha-Ha and cruising in Mexico.