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April 20, 2009

Moby Dick in Richardson Bay

The ‘ick meter’ was cranked up several notches last week when, on the same day the big wind storm rolled through, a dead gray whale made its smelly way around Richardson Bay. The Army Corps of Engineers wrangled the bloated beast and anchored it just outside the channel — off the Spinnaker Restaurant in Sausalito — to wait for better weather to tow it out to sea. "We’re charged with removing debris from federal channels," said Chief of Public Affairs J.D. Hardesty. "That includes large items such as big logs or dead whales." He noted that the last whale they removed was seven years ago, but the year before that, they’d had five.

The seven-ton, 24- to 30-ft gray — probably a younger whale — has since filled the nostrils of Richardson Bay sailors with a fetid stench. One group of young sailors even bumped into it last night when they ran out of diesel just a little too close to the scene. "We had to push ourselves off of it," said one gal with a shudder. "Blech!" But not to worry, Hardesty reports that USACE contracted with a private party to tow the rotting behemoth out several miles past the Farallones for disposal early this morning. We can all breathe easy once more.

Taking the Bulls by the Horns

The start of the 2009 Bullship was in very light breeze. A butterfly actually passed us.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

It was about midmorning on Saturday when the theme from Rawhide started playing in our heads: “Movin, movin, movin; Though they’re disapprovin’; Keep them dogies movin’; Rawhide!"

As the lyrics tumbled forth, whipcracks and all, from that long-forgotten ‘50s TV show, the subconscious became conscious: we were in the midst of a mighty herd of 36 El Toros charging across the Bay in the 56th annual Bullship Race. Along our flanks were a dozen or so ‘cowships’ — larger yachts assigned to keep tabs on up to three Toros apiece. Right from the start off the Horizons Restaurant in Sausalito, to the finish off the end of the San Francisco Marina breakwater, it was a seagoing cattle drive of epic nuttiness.

First there was the wind, or in this case, lack of it. A nice five-knot morning breeze turned to almost zilch shortly after the 9:10 a.m. start, leaving the herd to ‘graze’ toward the Cityfront — and quashing plans for a massive ‘starboard tack’ assault on the departing crewed Farallones boats that started half an hour later. Then there was the big tide rip that stalled the fleet in a line stretching from about Horseshoe Cove almost to Harding Rock. The group closest to the Golden Gate broke through first, only to find that the ‘dying ebb’ was in fact having a Hollywood death that involved lots of prolonged gyrations. That’s when the equivalent of a ‘stampede’ occurred, with Toros getting flushed out under the bridge — an automatic DSQ — faster than the cowships could round them up. But the ‘cowboys’ and ‘cowgirls’ did a great job of wrangling the little boats before they got too far out on the range.

One-two punch: ‘Toreadors’ Skip Shapiro (left) and John Pacholski took first and second.

©2009 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

A dozen boats made it to the countercurrent off the Cityfront — and thereby to the finish. First in was Skip Shapiro, a 10-time participant and first-time winner. John Pacholski was second, with Fred Paxton third. Shapiro also won the ‘Clydesdale’ division, for sailors over 200 lbs. There were also awards for longest distance traveled to compete, first maiden voyager, first woman, oldest competitor and others, all with a ‘bullish’ theme. And what about the two-boat Team Latitude? Our ‘A’ boat was in second place until the big flush. As for the ‘B’ boat, remember in those western movies when they sent cowboys back to search for lost strays . . . ?

Skip Shapiro didn’t stick around to gather up his awards. He and fellow Bullshipper John Dukat were whisked over to the Circle to climb aboard Buzz Blackett’s Express 27 New Wave in time for the second race in the Resin Regatta. New Wave won the Saturday race and, with Shapiro driving on Sunday (Buzz had a prior commitment), got a first and second. When you’re on a roll, you’re on a roll.

For complete results, visit

Pre-Season Safety Check

John Thompson and CG Auxiliary officer Rick Saber check the expiration dates on John’s flare gun ammo.

©2009 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

John Thompson’s Tanzer sloop may only be 22 feet long, but she’s fitted out with all the safety gear that would be found on a boat twice her size. We ran into John at Loch Lomond Marina on Sunday as his well-cared-for boat was being inspected by Coast Guard Auxiliary officer Rick Saber.

John, who’s had a variety of sailing adventures in different parts of the world, knows the importance of keeping his safety gear properly stowed and up to date. So he contacted Rick to volunteer for the inspection — and passed without a problem.

Among the items inspectors look for are flares (with valid expiration dates), approved life jackets, waste disposal placards, proper sanitation devices and visual distress signals. It’s smart to get your vessel inspected periodically, and having a recent certificate on hand will often exempt you from random boardings by Coast Guardsman patroling Bay waters. Rick and other inspectors will be happy to check your boat at a convenient time and place. Click here to see a complete inspector’s form.

John Guzzwell (left) and Clifford Cain both circumnavigated aboard Trekka. latitude/Rob
©2009 Latitude 38 Media, LLC It’s a pretty amazing evening when many of your heroes gather to celebrate one of their heroes.
Regular ‘Lectronic and Latitude 38 readers know that we’ve steadfastly supported Bismarck Dinius in his fight against vehicular manslaughter charges stemming from the 2006 death of Lynn Thornton.
All the snow on Misty suggests that it’s still a little early in the season to go sailing in Alaska.