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February 16, 2009

A Busy Holiday Weekend

Sam Davies celebrated her arrival back in Les Sables D’Olonne early Saturday. Even the flares are pink.

© Mark Lloyd / DPPI / Vendée Globe

Not only were Friday the 13th, Valentine’s Day and Presidents Day all shoehorned into the same long weekend just past, the last several days have also been momentous ones in a number of sailing events around the world. Today we’ll take quick looks at the latest news in the Vendée Globe and Louis Vuitton Pacific Series. On Wednesday, we’ll bring you some amazing stories from the Leg Five start of the Volvo Ocean Race, a more fun than serious PV Race, and yet another major Melges 24 win for the ageless Dave Ullman.

Vendée Globe — As she predicted, British sailor Samantha Davies ended her marathon 27,470-mile nonstop Vendée Globe race on Valentine’s Day, crossing the finish line off Les Sables D’Olonne in third place in the wee hours of Saturday, February 14. Although Roxy finished almost two weeks after winner Michel Desjoyeaux (and a week behind second place Armel Le Cléac’h), her 95d, 4h, 39m passage missed Ellen MacArthur’s fastest-female time by only one day. Thousands of ‘Sam fans’ toughed out the cold weather to greet the boat as she came in. But as popular as she has become during the race, the spotlight of the weekend shined brightest on Mark Guillemot of Safran.

Marc Guillemot’s Safran photographed 50 miles from the finish. This boat sailed 1,000 miles with no keel!

© 2009 Jean-Marie Liot / DPPI / Vendée Globe

You may recall that Davies and Guillemot both diverted earlier in the race to stand by an injured competitor, and both were given redress — Guillemot a bit more because he was alongside Yann Eliès’ boat longer. So the numbers worked out that Davies owed Guillemot 50 hours. Then, last Monday, 1,000 miles out, Safran‘s keel fell right out of the boat. So for seven days, Guillemot sailed his high-performance Open 60 like a tender dinghy — with triple-reefed main and staysail, using only water ballast and his skill to keep her upright. He finished last night, saving his time to take a well-deserved third place. On his way into the harbor, he invited aboard all the Vendée skippers who’d had to drop out of the race — 19 so far. Four accepted the invitation, including the recuperating Yann Eliès, who Guillemot had gone to the aid of back in mid-December.

Earlier this morning, another ‘duel’ was decided as Brian Thompson and Dee Caffari finished less than five hours apart, securing fifth and sixth places, respectively. So six boats have finished and five are still on the race course — and will be for awhile. The closest, Arnaud Boissières, is more than 1,000 miles away, Rich Wilson — the only American in this edition of the race — is over 3,000, and the last competitor, Norbert Sedlacek, is still off the coast of Brazil, some 4,500 miles away. For more,

Emirates Team New Zealand, foreground, beat Alinghi to win the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series.

© 2009 Paul Todd / LVPC 2009

Louis Vuitton Pacific Series — On Saturday, Emirates Team New Zealand clinched a come-from-behind victory over the Swiss Alinghi team in the first Louis Vuitton Pacific Series, sailed out of Auckland in a very America’s-Cup like format which started January 30. This first-ever series had all the same boats, all the rock star sailors, the same match-racing format, great management, and a great sponsor in Louis Vuitton (which for 25 years sponsored the A-Cup Challenger Series but quit last time because they felt the Cup had become "too commercial"). And talk about déjà vu — there were even days when races were cancelled because of too little wind, or too much. In fact, about the only thing missing from this event was the Auld Mug itself. Well, and all the baggage it carries: bickering billionaires, suites full of lawyers and a series that — when they occasionally do get out of the courtroom every few years and go sailing — drags on interminably. Anyway, nine syndicates showed up for the series. Alinghi defeated the American team, the Russell Coutts-led BMW Oracle, in the semi-final round to earn the right to face ‘host’ syndicate Emirates Team New Zealand — now there’s some déjà vu. The Kiwi home team lost the first race but then came back to dispatch the Swiss 3-1 in the best of five finale. For more:

Nuclear Subs Collide

In the stuff of which Tom Clancy novels are made, two nuclear subs collided with each other in mid-Atlantic earlier this month. Although the collision between the British HMS Vanguard and France’s Le Triomphant took place back on February 6, the news was apparently withheld until this morning. In what has to be a one in a bazillion chance, the two subs "came into contact at low speed" — while underwater! Fortunately, none of the combined 240 crew aboard either ship were injured and there was no damage to either ship’s nuclear reactors or weapons. However, both ships are said to have been badly damaged, and HMS Vanguard needed to be towed home.

How could it happen? Don’t subs use sonar to detect other ships? They do, but they also employ ‘anti-sonar’ devices to mask detection from other subs. As one expert pointed out, “Maybe those systems were too effective” in this case. The collision obviously caused embarassment for both Navies (the French originally said that Le Triomphant had hit a container) and both are investigating the incident. The best quote in all this came from British Defense spokesman Nick Harvey: “While the British nuclear fleet has a good safety record, if there were ever to be a bang it would be a mighty big one.”

Brion Toss to Speak at Spaulding’s

Renowned master rigger Brion Toss will be speaking on the "Hidden Causes of Rig Failure" at Spaulding Wooden Boat Center in Sausalito this Thursday at 6 p.m. The free 1½-hour talk is a bonus for Bay Area sailors as the Port Townsend-based Toss is in town for a weekend-long rigging workshop in Alameda. Reservations are not required for Thursday’s seminar but donations to the Center are always welcome.

Cruisers Robbed in Mexico

"We are still enjoying the wonderful fruits of the Baja Ha-Ha, as we progress down the Mexican coast, visiting with other Ha-Ha folks along the way. It had been a great experience until a few days ago, February 12, in Chamela, which is about 15 miles north of Tenacatita Bay. Linda and I were strolling along a paved road from the beach to the small village in the middle of the afternoon, with other people within 100 feet, when a real ‘Frito Bandito’ jumped out at us from behind a tree with a large caliber revolver in his hand. He was very agitated, so we did not quibble when he asked for our money. He took about 950 pesos — about $60 U.S. — and ran back into the woods.

"I reported the incident to the local village leader, who got the police involved. Within two hours, a panga was sent out to our boat so I could meet with the police and try to identify the suspect. Yes, they said they’d already found him, and that he was an ‘outsider.’ In fact, they had the guy in shackles in a police pickup.

"I told the police what had been taken from us, and it’s what they found in his wallet. I could not positively identify the guy — and I told the police that — but the money, especially a 500 peso note — was fairly evidentiary. One is guilty in Mexico until proven innocent, and the police had all they needed to nail this guy. The officials were all very apologetic, and said that things like that never happened in Chamela. We’re inclined to believe them.

"What lessons did we learn? Even though I had never been attacked or robbed before in all my worldwide travels, I still consider Mexico very safe and would not want to discourage others from travelling here. Perhaps we should have walked in a larger group — my wife and two others had made the same walk only 60 minutes earlier! Or maybe this was just bad luck.

"If others report this incident, it might get corrupted in some form. Please use this letter as a statement of simple facts."

One person was killed, one boat destroyed and at least one other damaged after an "old wooden" motorboat caught fire in Pittsburg Marina last night.
If you experienced spotty service from your Iridium satellite phone over the last few days, you’re not alone.