January 25, 2010

A Windswept Path of Carnage

The normally tranquil beaches of Santa Barbara became a graveyard for wayward boats last week.

© 2010 David ‘Bear’ Turpin

With rain so intense that you can literally get soaked to the skin just walking from your front door to your car, it’s truly ironic to realize that we’re still officially suffering a drought. And you don’t need us to tell you that the deluge will continue this week along the California coast. But at least this week’s storms won’t be as intense as last week’s.

“We’re not in Kansas anymore.” Observers might have thought they’d stumbled into a scene from the ‘Wizard of OZ’ when this funnel cloud touched down off the Huntington Beach Pier last Tuesday.

© 2010 A. Nony Mouse

From the Bay Area to Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, torrential downpours combined with high winds to wreak havoc both on land and on the water. Here in San Francisco Bay, boats dragged anchor and/or broke loose of their moorings, just as they did in Santa Barbara and San Carlos, Mexico, on the eastern shore of the Sea of Cortez. Newport Beach saw wind gusts over 100 mph, while winds at San Carlos may have been even higher (if you’re in San Carlos, shoot us an email with your account of what happened, including photos if you have them). In Tuscon, AZ, 280 miles away, one gust was clocked at 158 mph. Now that’s what we call a fresh breeze. So be careful out there, and hang onto your hats!

What Would You Do?

Every longtime sailor has considered the ‘what ifs’ of falling overboard at sea. And many of us take substantial precautions to up the odds of survival should we someday end up in the drink — such as wearing PFDs, insuring that lifelines and stanchions are sound, and keeping throwable flotation devices at the ready.

But have you ever considered how you’d save yourself if you slipped and fell in at your marina? A nearly tragic incident last week has put that topic in the spotlight. Late one stormy night, a heavy-set, middle-aged sailor slipped and fell in the water while checking his docklines, and became wedged between his boat and the dock, unable to pull himself out. Luckily, a couple of liveaboards heard his cries for help above the roar of the wind and rain, and pulled him out without injury.

Unless you’ve tried to climb up onto a dock finger from the water, you probably have no idea how difficult it is to do so — especially when the dock is rain-soaked and slippery. And unless you’re in excellent physical condition, it’s very tough — in fact, nearly impossible — to haul yourself up over the toerail of a boat from the water.

During winter storms, even movements that we’d take for granted on a sunny day can be treacherous.

latitude/John A.
©2010 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

So we’d urge every boater to make a mental game plan for exactly how they’d save themselves if they suddenly found themselves treading water in our bone-chilling Bay waters. Very few marinas have emergency ladders at the end of docks, so your best bet would probably be to head for the closest powerboat with a swim step on its transom, or a sailboat with either a sugar scoop close to the water’s surface, steps up a reverse transom, or a permanently mounted swim ladder. 

Even if you feel that falling in at the dock is an ‘it-could-never-happen-to-me’ scenario, do us a favor and make an exit plan anyway. We really hate writing obits.

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Jess Gets Knocked Down, Abby Leaves

Jessica Watson’s parents performed a flyover as Ella’s Pink Lady rounded Cape Horn.

© 2010 Ella’s Pink Lady

As the world watched Abby Sunderland, 16, set out in light winds from Marina del Rey on Saturday on her quest to become the youngest solo circumnavigator, Jessica Watson was getting her ass kicked in the Southern Ocean. Having rounded Cape Horn on January 13 and passed the Falklands a few days later, the 16-year-old Aussie was expecting a gale to hit but what she experienced was far worse. "None of the computers or forecasts picked up that it would reach the 65 knots that I recorded — before losing the wind instruments in a knockdown," Jess wrote in her blog. Before it was all over, her S&S 34 Ella’s Pink Lady would suffer three more knockdowns, one completely inverting the boat. Jess was safely strapped in below, and the boat suffered surprisingly little damage as a result.

After four knockdowns, one to 180 degrees, the only real damage to Ella’s Pink Lady was a bent solar panel and frame – and, of course, a disaster zone in the cabin. But Jess rode out the storm with remarkable fortitude.

© 2010 Jessica Watson

Meanwhile, Abby Sunderland’s experience so far has been the complete reverse. Struggling through light winds off Southern California, Abby passed out of U.S. waters yesterday. Apparently she’s been busy settling into a routine, as her parents posted on her blog that she hasn’t had time to do it herself. Follow her progress here.

Abby Sunderland left Marina del Rey on Saturday aboard her Open 40 Wild Eyes.

© Lisa Gizara

Three Bridge Deadline Approaching

Last year’s Three Bridge Fiasco had sun and some breeze to finish off the day. What will conditions be like this Saturday? We don’t know, but we know someone who does . . .

© Erik Simonson

Nearly 330 — that’s right, 330 — boats are already signed up for the Singlehanded Sailing Society‘s Three Bridge Fiasco. If you’re planning to race on Saturday, then you’ll want to make sure you have the best weather info available given the meteorological variability we’ve been experiencing lately. Thankfully, North Sails has stepped up to provide a free weather report for competitors from Sailing Weather Service. Just follow this link, register, and you’ll receive updates throughout the week. If you haven’t already signed up for the race, but you’re planning to, you only have until Wednesday to do it, so don’t lag!

Tourist Murder Tarnishes Antigua’s Image

If your country’s primary source of income is tourism, the last thing you want is for travelers to be afraid to visit. Sadly, that is precisely what tourism leaders fear this week on the Caribbean island of Antigua, in the aftermath of a grisly murder last week. Despite an extensive police manhunt, the culprit has not yet been apprehended.

Bay Area-based vacationer Nina Elizabeth Nilssen, 30, was found dead last Tuesday evening in an isolated area near Pigeon Point Beach, on Antigua’s southeast coast, with a stab wound to her neck. The incident comes almost exactly a year after Aussie yacht skipper Drew Gollan was murdered at English Harbor. The year before, a British couple, Ben and Catherine Mullany, were murdered at the Cocos Hotel on the last day of their honeymoon.

While Antigua’s overall crime rate is minimal compared to any American or European city, the impact of such sensational events can have a long-lasting affect on the health of its tourism picture. “Our livelihood as a nation is at stake, and we really all need to work together to ensure that our tourism product is nurtured and protected,” said Antigua and Barbuda Tourism’s Chief Executive Officer Colin James in a radio interview. A $2,000 USD reward is being offered for info that leads to the perpetrator’s capture and conviction.

We’re full of good gossip this week. First it was Brad Pitt in Sausalito, now the word on the docks is that Paul Cayard’s Santa Cruz 50 Hula Girl may soon be sold into a very active local sailing school program for participation in events to Hawaii and Mexico.
Awards season isn’t just for movies, and while the ISAF and the Rolex US Sailing awards usually garner the lion’s share of the press, they aren’t the only ones out there.