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October 13, 2008

Fire on the Mountain

A small brushfire on Angel Island at 9 p.m. quickly spread to an inferno by the time this photo was taken at 10:15 p.m.

©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

One of San Francisco Bay’s most recognizable landmarks put on a spectacular — and heartbreaking — show last night. Around 9 p.m., a small brushfire was reported on Angel Island’s Mt. Livermore. By 10:30 p.m., more than 100 acres were blazing on the south and east sides of the island, threatening historic buildings in Fort McDowell, as well as park personnel housing. All non-essential park personnel and 40 campers were evacuated last night.

There’s no telling what the damage might have been had the winds been blowing as hard as they have been all week. As it was, the very light easterly breeze pushed the flames west.

©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Firefighters were ferried to the island through the night and, as of 11 a.m., 383 people were working to contain the blaze which had engulfed 400 of the island’s 740 acres. And they were succeeding, thanks in no small part to the miraculous lack of wind. Officials estimate that 75% of the fire has been contained, and they expect full containment by 5 p.m. No injuries have been reported.

Eucalyptus trees acted as flame throwers when ignited. Flares like these shot 40 or more feet in the air.

©2008 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Firefighting efforts focused primarily on saving historic structures, not the least of which is the Immigration Station that the state spent millions restoring and is slated to re-open to the public early next year. The Marin County Fire Department believes no buildings have been damaged, though they are still threatened.

The flames marched on toward the Civil War fort Camp Reynolds. Crews worked hard to prevent the fire from spreading to any structures.

© 2008 John Pettitt

The Coast Guard has set up a 100-yard no-go zone around the island and all official vessels. If you just have to go check it out, do everyone a favor and stay well away from Ayala Cove as ferries are still running firefighters back and forth. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Morning Light Opens This Weekend

Morning Light as she crossed the finish line of the 2007 TransPac.

© 2008 Abner Kingman

There is frequent coverage of racing boats in the half hour before and after they cross the starting line of big races, and in the half hour or so after they finish. But what’s it like the other 99% of the time, during the preparation for the event and in the middle of the ocean? That’s the question that Roy and Leslie DeMeuse Disney have tried to answer with their 90-minute documentary Morning Light. To make the story all the more compelling, the Disneys picked 11 untried sailors — with an average age of under 20 — from a big pool to sail the boat.

Morning Light follows the story of how the youngsters are selected to be part of the team in last year’s TransPac from Los Angeles to Hawaii. They are introduced to the tricked out TransPac 52 Morning Light, then given a winter’s worth of instruction in Hawaii by Robbie Haines and Stan Honey, along with other experts, on all the sailing arts. Disney solved the problem of how to get good mid-ocean sailing footage by having the late Steve Fossett’s maxi cat PlayStation/Cheyenne, set up as a motor vessel, track Morning Light all the way to the Islands.

After the obligatory premiere in Hollywood a week ago, Morning Light was presented again on Saturday as part of the Mill Valley Film Festival. Roy and Leslie were in attendance to answer questions following the showing. As we were sidelined with the flu, we had to turn the review over to Doña de Mallorca and Alan Olson, two lifelong sailors.

"Everyone loved it!" said de Mallorca. "And it was a true documentary, not a scripted, cheesy reality show where each self-absorbed character tries to be nuttier than the one before. Morning Light is about learning and teamwork, and racing in the middle of the Pacific, no matter how light or strong the winds are. As Roy and Leslie said after the film, it wasn’t meant to be a movie about sailing, but about lives being transformed in the course of preparing for and competing in a sailing event. And I was inspired. In fact, I want to do the next TransPac! Morning Light had its hilarious moments, too, because the boat was crewed by kids, and kids say the funniest things without even trying."

"I give Morning Light both of my thumbs up," said Alan Olson, who has spent much of his life introducing non-sailors to sailing, much of it offshore sailing. "After the movie, Roy said that their goal was to not just make a film for sailors, but for non-sailors alike, so they could relate and understand what it’s like to come together as a team and sail offshore. Roy and Leslie wanted to emphasize how such experiences can be life-changing, something I’ve witnessed many times before. And they succeeded. Everyone, not just sailors, who sees this film will really like it."

Morning Light will be released in 55 theaters starting October 17. Check it out! And tell your friends, sailors and non-sailors alike.

Dodging the Norbert Bullet

Said to have hit later in the season than any previously recorded hurricane, Norbert lashed the Baja Peninsula Saturday with winds up to 105 mph and torrents of rain before marching across the Sea of Cortez to the Mexican mainland. Luckily, the Category 2 storm’s path did not cross any major population centers.

Although mainstream media sources report that 20,000 homes were temporarily without electricity, only one person is believed dead at this writing. The Mexican boating community seems to have dodged the Norbert bullet completely, with little or no damage occurring in major marinas and popular cruiser anchorages — at least according to initial reports.

"There was very little damage in La Paz," says longtime Marina de La Paz operator Mary Shroyer, "except that some of those big ugly signs blew down."

First-hand reports from San Carlos and Mag Bay boaters were similar, with no major damage cited nor loss of life. Those who suffered most may have been the residents of the islands of Margarita and Magdalena, many of whom lost their roofs. In Mexico, however, seasonal hurricanes are accepted as a fact of life. As such, affected residents typically pick up the pieces and get on with their lives. Rather than waiting around for assistance from FEMA-like government agencies, they simply get out their brooms and shovels as soon as the skies clear, and get to work.

Round the World Races Start

Ericsson 4 currently leads the Volvo Ocean Race. The second generation V70s are faster and hopefully less glitchy than their predecessors – but they aren’t any drier.

© Rick Tomlinson/Volvo Ocean Race

As the days grow colder and sailboat racing goes into hibernation across most of America, two events blasted off the launching pads this past weekend that should warm the cockles of online sailors everywhere: the 2008-2009 Volvo Ocean Race, and the Portimao Global Ocean Race.

Puma hits the afterburners. ‘Il Mostro’ (the Monster), as she is nicknamed, sports one of the most fabulous paint jobs ever put on a boat.

© 2008 Rick Tomlinson/Volvo Ocean Race

The Volvo is well known to most sailors as the pinnacle of crewed round-the-world competition. Begun in 1973 with a diverse fleet of small boats and maxis, this every-three-years event is today sailed in Volvo 70s, perhaps the fastest and most exciting craft of their size ever built. Just slightly shorter than an America’s Cup boat, the V70s make the Cup boats look like army trucks with four flat tires.

This year, only seven V70s answered the starting gun off Alicante, Spain, on Saturday. This smallest-ever fleet includes two boats each from Sweden (Ericsson 3 and Ericsson 4) and Spain (Telefonica Blue and Telefonica Black), and one each from Germany (Puma), Russia (Team Russia), Netherlands (Delta Lloyd) and an Irish-Chinese collaboration (Green Dragon). There are no American entries this time. The team closest to being one is Puma, which was built at Goetz in Boston and is skippered by America’s Cup and Volvo veteran Ken Read. The Bay Area is ably represented by Kimo Worthington, who runs Puma‘s shore team.

The fleet started in brisk breeze and within a few hours, boats were doing speed bursts to 30 knots. That was followed by breeze so light near Gibraltar that, noted one report, "the boats were wallowing around like T-Rexes in a tar pit." Ericsson 4 — the Torben Grael-skippered boat favored to win — achieved the first pyschological victory by being the first boat past Gibraltar, followed closely by Puma, T-Black, Dragon and Ericsson 3. Bouwe Bekking’s Telefonica Blue was the first casualty, with her steering failing only 20 miles into the race. She returned to port for repairs and has now rejoined the fray.

The first leg takes the fleet 6,500 miles to Cape Town. That’s about the only similarity between this Volvo Race and the last one. The other six ports — Cochin (India), Singapore, Qingdao (China), Rio de Janeiro, Boston, Galway (Ireland), Goteborg/Marstrand (Sweden), Stockholm and finish in St. Petersburg, Russia — are all new stops. And several require a fair amount of windward work to get there, which was just one of many considerations in the ‘Volvo 2.0’ design. The new boats are lighter, faster and — one would hope — safer than the failure-prone 70s of the last race. For more on this event, log onto

In contrast to the Volvo, the Portimao Race started in light breeze. These are doublehanded entries Desafio Cabo de Hornos (left) and Beluga Racer.

© Brian Hancock

A day after the Volvo start and 450 miles to the west, the inaugural Portimao Global Ocean Race got underway in Portugal. Conceived by round the world racers Josh Hall and Brian Hancock, this event is for single- or doublehanded 40-footers. Intended as an ‘affordable’ alternative to high-dollar events like the Vendée Globe, the race attracted six boats, two solo and four doublehanded. They hail from Germany, Great Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, South Africa and Chile. The first of five stops in this event is also Cape Town. Few of the skippers are well known. But we have a feeling that will change. For more on this new event, check out the excellent website at

And if all that isn’t enough to keep you sailing the armchair well into the evenings, the true Everest of sailing, the Vendée Globe, starts next month and 30 — that’s no typo — sailors are signed up to start, including American Rich Wilson. To join the countdown, visit

Eighth Graders Wanting to Make a Difference

We, Poppy Denyer and Siena Landay, are two 8th graders who attend Santa Monica Alternative School House (SMASH), and we want to try to make a difference in our world. Members of our class all do projects to help the communities, be they near or far. The two of us have decided that we want to provide school supplies — and a few fun things — for children in Mexico who do not have them.

Since the Ha-Ha is a large group of boats headed down to Mexico, we wonder if members of your fleet might be willing to help out. Specifically, we need boats to carry the school supplies and other stuff down to Mexico, then pass them out to kids who need them. The kids need such supplies in order to have lifelong opportunities of success.

We’re also hoping that Edison Language Academy, the elementary school we attended, and our current school, can become sister schools with ones in Mexico. The Edison kids study Spanish, and becoming pen pals with students in Mexico can help them with their skills as well as developing friendships. SMASH also celebrates Spanish language skills and our neighbors in Mexico. Such ‘exchange’ programs would also help us kids in Santa Monica realize how different our lives are from kids in Mexico.

We will be bringing the school and other supplies to the Ha-Ha Kick-Off Party at the West Marine Super Store in San Diego on Sunday, October 26. Are there any members of the Ha-Ha fleet who would be willing to transport and distribute some of the materials we collect? We thank you in advance.

As most Latitude readers know, Skip Allan of Capitola, one of the best racers and cruisers that has ever come out of Northern California, scuttled his Wylie 28 Wildflower in rough weather on September 1 on his way back to California after winning the Singlehanded TransPac.
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