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March 9, 2009

Cosco Busan Pilot Pleads Guilty

John Cota, the pilot aboard the 901-ft Cosco Busan when it hit the Bay Bridge on November 7, 2007, pleaded guilty last week to negligently causing the discharge of 53,000 gallons of oil into the Bay and to violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by causing the deaths of thousands of birds. In the plea deal with federal prosecutors, Cota will serve two to 10 months in prison and be fined $3,000 to $30,000 for his role in the environmental disaster that wreaked $60 million worth of damages. He will be sentenced in June, and will not be able to reapply for a pilot’s license until 2010.

The owner of the ship, Fleet Management Ltd, has been indicted on six felony charges — that trial has been postponed until September — and both Cota and Fleet Management are defendants in civil lawsuits stemming from the accident.

Spaulding Youth Boat Building

Last November, a group of nearly a dozen kids launched their pride and joy: the 12-ft Norwegian pram Guppy. The kids had worked for seven months on the little boat as part of the Spaulding Center’s first-ever youth boat building program. The program was so successful, Spaulding’s — in cooperation with 4-H and Big Brothers/Big Sisters — is holding an open house this Saturday for young people and their parents to learn more about this year’s version of it. The Q&A is from 1-3 p.m. and will be held at the Spaulding Center at the foot of Gate 5 Road in Sausalito. For more on the center and the program, go to

Take One Down, Pass It Around

An artist’s conception of the Plastiki . . . under build at Pier 31.

© Adventure Ecology

Although 12,000 may represent a small fraction of America’s daily consumption of plastic bottles, they’ll comprise a huge part of a 60-ft catamaran under build over at Pier 31. The brainchild of adventurer David de Rothschild, Plastiki — an homage to Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki — will attempt to bring awareness to the disturbing fact that 80% of 15 billion pounds of plastic bottles go unrecycled every year in this country. The plan is to launch the boat at the end of April and sail it across the Pacific via the North Pacific Gyre, Hawaii, and Tuvalu before finishing in Sydney. We’ve been working on getting a tour of the boat and we’ll give you our impressions of the project when we do! For now check out the project’s website.

Two Wrongs Finally Make a Right

The dinghy thieves may have had balls, but not much in the way of brains. Not only did they steal the only red dinghy in the land of a million grey ones, they then anchored in the middle of the busy anchorage in Simpson Bay Lagoon.

© 2009 Heather Corsaro

Is there anything more evil than stealing somebody’s dinghy when it’s their only way to get between the boat and shore? We don’t think so, which is why the gods reserve a particularly hot place in hell for people who do things like that.

The day before we left St. Barth for the Bay Area, via St. Martin, last week, we were told that the dinghy for Donald Tofias’ W-76 Wild Horses had disappeared from the dinghy dock at Charles de Gaulle Quai. Making it worse was the fact that it had last been in control of a young guy from another boat. If you think the owner of the dink felt bad, the young guy felt horrible.

Sometimes dinghies are lost because people tie ‘drunk knots’ and the dinghies blow away in the trades or drift in the current. It was unlikely this had been the case with the Wild Horses’ dinghy, because the Charles de Gaulle Quai is in the inner harbor at Gustavia. Not only would it have had to make its way past all the boats in the inner harbor, but the hundreds of boats in the outer harbor as well. Not very likely.

So it was assumed that the dinghy had been stolen. In several people’s minds, the prime suspects were the French crew of a yellow ketch that had been anchored in the outer harbor the week before. The crew was suspect because they didn’t have a dinghy, and had been left to beg for mile-long dinghy rides to shore.

So when we got to the Simpson Bay Lagoon in St. Martin, and were buzzing around in our dinghy prior to our flight home, we kept an eye out for the distinctive yellow ketch. And we saw her! But after circling the yacht, we didn’t see the the big Wild Horses‘ dinghy, which is unusual in that it’s larger than most, is red, and has a brown Sunbrella top to protect the fabric.

After heading off on other errands, we returned to the general area of the yellow ketch about an hour later. While hanging off the back of Mike Harker’s Manhattan Beach-based Hunter 49 Wanderlust III and talking about his upcoming second circumnavigation, we glanced over at the 200-yard distant yellow ketch. Son of a gun, the Wild Horses dinghy was tied up right next to her!

See ya, Mike! We took off at full speed for the yellow ketch, standing in our dinghy, and introducing ourselves at the top of our lungs by shouting, "You f–kin’ thieves, you stole that dinghy, and we’re takin’ it back right now!"

Initially pretty quiet, one of the three crew finally mounted a defense. "We found it in the middle of the ocean," he claimed. When we demanded to know exactly where, he said Isle Forchue. Which meant, even if he wasn’t lying — which he was — it would have been obvious the dinghy had drifted the short distance down from St. Barth. And since the dinghy had the boat’s name written in big letters, finding the rightful owner would have been as simple as pie.

An unidentified member of the International Dinghy Recovery Squad (IDRS) tows the Wild Horses dinghy away from the thieves.

© 2009 Heather Corsaro

In any event, the thieves made no effort to prevent David Addleman and Heather Corsaro of the Monterey-based Cal 36 Eupsychia from untying the dinghy and our taking her away. So yeah, we stole her back, with the second wrong, for once, making a right. Almost immediately after we left, the yellow ketch left the anchorage, no doubt fearing the harbor police were on their way.

Stealing dinghies is, unfortunately, not that unusual, particularly in the Caribbean. Indeed, about 20 years ago one French cruiser wrote a book in which he suggested that stealing dinghies and then selling them was a good way to finance a cruise. It’s not.

Every marina has them — neglected boats covered with green gunge and bottoms so foul that they could be declared their own ecosystems.
We had a feeling folks would be eager to join our inaugural Delta Doo Dah — the laid-back rally to the Delta that we announced in the March issue of Latitude 38 and in Wednesday’s ‘Lectronic Latitude — but the response has been tremendous!