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September 24, 2008

Tragedy Off Cannes

Tragedy struck the opening race of the Regates Royale off Cannes yesterday. British attorney Wilf Tolhurst, 64, was killed when his classic 50-ft 8-Meter Safir collided with a larger British yacht shortly after noon. Winds were 20 knots at the time with confused seas. It was unclear from early reports exactly what happened, but the other yacht, Graham Walker’s 65-ft Rowdy, apparently had right of way and Tolhurst was trying to avoid them. The collision brought down Safir’s mast and snapped off the larger boat’s bowsprit. Attempts were made to revive Tolhurst, but he was thought to have been struck by the falling mast and killed instantly. None of the other seven crew of Safir, which included Tolhurst’s son, Julian, were injured. There were likewise no reports of injuries on Rowdy.

Out of respect, Wednesday’s racing was cancelled, but the Tolhurst family has requested that the regatta, which runs through Saturday, continue. The Regates Royale, celebrating its 30th year, is an annual competition for classic yachts.

Falcon Still on for Saturday at 2 p.m.

For those of you tracking the progress of Maltese Falcon on, you’ve already noticed that Tom Perkins’ megayacht pulled into Drakes Bay this morning around 6 a.m. Rest assured, Falcon is still scheduled to make her grand entrance to the Bay at 2 p.m. on Saturday. The next few days will be spent tidying up the boat after its passage from Hawaii — no quick chore on a boat that measures 289 feet overall.

Danger Never Takes a Vacation

How safe would you feel swimming or riding in a slow moving dinghy in front of this panga?

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Max de Rham, a Swiss citizen with a home in Maui, is about as adventurous a 70-year-old as one could imagine. He cruised a catamaran all over the Pacific for years, during which time he made many challenging dives. And during the winters, he was always a ballsy skier. Earlier this year, he took delivery of Kanaloa, the first Gunboat 66 catamaran. The big and powerful cat was meant to be the culmination of his sailing career. Having missed the winter season in the Caribbean because the yard in South Africa hadn’t finished the boat in time, de Rham took Kanaloa straight to the Med — which is where tragedy struck. We don’t have any of the details, but while swimming off Corsica, de Rham was hit by a small twin engine powerboat. He survived, but lost an arm, and after a month is still in the hospital.

We don’t want to unduly scare anyone about to go cruising for the first time, and there is no way anyone can anticipate all dangers that may come their way, but the more you remain fully aware of what’s going on around you, the better your chances are of not getting hurt or killed. One of the big dangers faced by cruisers are outboard powered dinghies/launches/pangas, both those operated by their owners, and ones operated by others. Outboard powered dinghies are fun, but they can be as deadly as motorcycles. The biggest dangers faced by dinghy operators are incompetent operation when coming in or out through the surf and over bars, operating at high speeds in crowded anchorages, and at night. Make sure you’re wearing the kill switch cord, for if you go overboard, you need to be sure that prop stops immediately so it doesn’t slice you or members of your crew into shark snacks.

The other danger is dinghies/pangas/launches operated by others. If you’ve been around, you’ve seen these being operated with complete disregard for safety by Mexican fishermen, megayacht captains, Joe Cool Italian boat boys, drunken cruisers, and clueless bareboat charterers the world over. Over the years we’ve had to report on fatal dinghy accidents that happened at Catalina, Punta Mita, St. Thomas, St. Barth and many other places. All of them could have been avoided with even halfway intelligent and responsible operation.

Dinghy operators can be just as big a hazard to cruisers. If you find yourself going through even a small wave like this at the wrong time, you damn well better have the kill switch attached securely to your body.

©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Always dinghy defensively — meaning be alert for idiots operating at high speeds and/or who think nothing of suddenly appearing from behind large boats. The most dangerous time is at night, for many dinghies/pangas/launches show no lights, are almost impossible to see or hear until they are right on top of you, and in many cases are being operated by drunks or idiots rushing to shore to get drunk. Always have at least a bright white light with you when operating at night, and wave the thing around, making it easier for irresponsible idiots to see you.

Finally, as the tragic case of Max de Rham proves, you also have to be very careful when swimming or diving. When you’re in the water, you’re very hard to see. Indeed, the day we got the news about de Rham, a diver from a big dive boat at Harbor Reef, Catalina, was nearly run over by a carelessly operated big powerboat. Some swimmers in the Caribbean have taken to swimming with a small helium balloon tied to their body. The balloon floats a few feet above them making it easier for them to be seen.

As we said, we’re not trying to scare anyone, but we do want everyone to be smart — and safe!

Strong Quake Jolts Mexican Coast

The coastal region of west-central Mexico was rocked yesterday evening by a magnitude 6.4 earthquake, centered offshore, approximately 130 miles SW of Manzanillo, in the state of Jalisco.

Fears that the undersea temblor would generate unusual wave action caused officials to issue a tsunami warning, but no abnormal conditions have been reported, and, according to on-site reporters, no major damage occurred ashore.

The Physics of Sailing Sneak Preview

An old salt once said, "You can learn everything you need to know about sailing in a day — then you spend the rest of your life getting it right." This may be a bit of a stretch though, especially considering the brain-twisting physics involved with modern sailing.

KQED has tackled the science involved in the sport in a new episode of Quest titled ‘The Physics of Sailing’. Enlisting the help of experts from NASA Ames Research Center and Modern Sailing instructor Stan Lander, the show explains exactly how sailboats move. But as aerospace engineer (and avid sailor) Steve Smith says in the show, "All this and a quarter will get you a cup of coffee." In other words, you don’t really need to know how it all works to have a great sail, but it could help you understand how to make your boat go a little faster.

The episode is scheduled to air on Channel 9 on September 30 at 7:30 p.m., but you can catch a free sneak preview tonight at Golden Gate YC from 7-9 p.m. The 10-minute segment will be followed by a Q&A session with the producers and other sailing experts. Food and drinks will be available. RSVP by email.

"I’m not some ‘nutter’ with a death-wish," claims Liverpool resident Tom McNally in defense of his planned double-Atlantic crossing in his 3′ 10" homebuilt boat Big C.
Christophe Bouvet (right) and his savior, Paul Meihat. © 2008 Figaro Cap IstanbulTwenty-nine solo sailors were about eight hours into the second leg of the Figaro Cap Instanbul Race when word arrived at race headquarters that one skipper had apparently fallen overboard.
Ron Holland, one of the top megayacht designers in the world, will give a presentation on yacht design at Richmond YC on October 6 as a fundraiser for the club’s Junior program.