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April 14, 2010

Every Sailor’s Nightmare

Five containers fell from a ship off Bolinas on April 2. The Doublehanded Farallones Race started the next morning.

© 2010 Tim Sell

Sailing into a half-submerged container is every sailor’s nightmare. On Saturday, April 3, the 65 boats that sailed out the Gate in BAMA’s Doublehanded Farallones Race came close to living that nightmare because of an accident the day before.

Weather conditions Friday morning had been severe. Rain cells rolled through the Bay, bringing driving rain and gusts to 40. Outside the Gate, off Bolinas, a container ship lost five empty containers — two sank immediately, one was barely afloat and two floated high. The Coast Guard responded to the scene, monitoring the containers, while Tim Parker and his crew got suited up for the ride out.

The American Eagle may be 90 feet, but she still saw green water washing over her.

© 2010 Tim Sell

"It was rougher than a cob," Parker recalls. "We were on Oscar Niemeth Towing’s 90-ft tug American Eagle taking green water over the cockpit." By the time American Eagle reached the coordinates given them by the Coast Guard — they left the scene to aid a boater in distress — only two containers could be found. "We assume the one that was barely floating went down," Parker said.

"One was already in the surf — it wound up on the beach — so we monitored the other one," said Parker. "It went across Duxbury Reef, close to shore, got caught in Bolinas Lagoon’s eddy, then circled south." The skipper of American Eagle then carefully edged up close enough to the container for the crew to get a line on it.

Tim Parker spots the two remaining containers. The one circled in yellow was beyond the surf and headed for the beach.

© 2010 Tim Sell

"It had a large tear on the top and already had a lot of water in it," Parker said. "We didn’t have it under tow for more than 100 yards before it took a roll and started taking on a lot of water, so we cut the tow and stood by to make sure it wasn’t floating near the surface. It took about five minutes for it to go to the bottom."

Tim Parker says the most dangerous containers are empty containers. If this one hadn’t been so damaged in its fall from the ship, it might have floated high for some time.

© 2010 Tim Sell

The following week, Parker Diving was contracted to remove the container from the beach, which Tim Parker said went smoothly — even though the public had pried open the container’s sealed doors, allowing water, sand and gravel to get in. "We had to tip it to pour it all out before we could move it," he noted.

Parker says his company gets, on average, one call a year to salvage a container, and it’s just bad luck that they had two such calls within one week (see March 29’s ‘Lectronic). An investigation is underway to find out why the containers fell off the ship in the first place.

Exhibitors Rev Up for Strictly Sail Pacific

As we post this, the exhibit floor of the Strictly Sail Pacific boat show at Oakland’s Jack London Square is bustling with frenetic activity in anticipation of tomorrow’s opening. National, international and local boat and gear manufacturers, as well as a broad range of service providers, will be on hand to share their expertise and sell their wares throughout the four-day event (tomorrow through Sunday, beginning at 10 a.m. daily).

Is there a Tahiti cruise in your future? How about a black pearl bracelet? Come to our seminar Saturday and find out.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Among the highlights of every Strictly Sail show are one-hour seminars on a impressive range of topics — everything from on-board yoga tips to surviving a shipwreck. If you’re interested in either of Latitude‘s big cruising rallies, the Baja Ha-Ha and the Pacific Puddle Jump, you’ll want to attend one of our informational gatherings: Ha-Ha How-To, this Friday at 2 p.m. or Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (both in the Windward room). Our presentation on Tahiti and the Pacific Puddle Jump will be Saturday at 4:45 p.m. (in the Regatta 1 room). Thanks to our Tahitian partners, we’ll be giving away an authentic black pearl bracelet, in addition to other items of swag, at the Tahiti seminar. See the website for a complete listing of seminars, exhibitors, and special events.

BMW Oracle Racing will be rolling out the red carpet tomorrow for show-goers.

© 2010 BMW Oracle Racing

If you’ve been longing to take a look at the actual America’s Cup in person, but missed your chance during its Bay Area stopover during the victory tour, you’ll have another opportunity at the show tomorrow. The oldest trophy in sports will be on display from noon until 7 p.m., where it will be joined by BMW Oracle Racing Design Coordinator Ian Burns and sailors Brad Webb and John Kostecki (a Bay Area native). At 5 p.m., the trio will sign free posters before giving a multimedia presentation — with some killer video — and a Q&A session. It’s definitely worthwhile.

Kattywampus Lost on South Pacific Reef

We’re sorry to report that the Port Townsend, WA-based Golden Wave 42 Kattywompus was lost earlier this week when she struck a reef on the North Island of New Zealand. 

According to an emailed alert from South Pacific cruiser Bob Bechler of the Seattle-based Gulfstar 44 Sisiutl, "Brad Nelson and Linda Attaway were coming into Doubtless Bay across from the town of Mangonui when they hit a reef and lost Kattywompus. They were able to deploy the liferaft and both are OK." Local observers were apparently helping them ashore as a Coast Guard helicopter arrived in response to their EPIRB. "The water came in so fast that they didn’t even get to grab their ditch bag," says Bechler. "They report that they have nothing at this point, but are being well looked after by the locals."

Honking Onboard Internet Access

This ‘Lectronic item is being brought to you, in a large part, by the little black thing sticking out of the port side of the Mac computer sitting in the main salon of Profligate. It’s a Banda Ancha, or modem, we bought from TelCel in Puerto Vallarta.

The little beauty cost us about $80, which included the first month of service. The cool thing about the Telcel program is that you can sign up for service by the day, week or month. There is no need for any of those ‘lifetime’ contracts, as required by most U.S. service providers. So after this first month, we won’t be charged anything until we want it fired back up in November. Sweet. Meanwhile, we’re paying about $45 a month to our masters at AT&T for a modem we haven’t used in four months. Why, we wonder, does the U.S. government let service providers get away with seemingly anti-consumer programs like that?

Telcel + Mac = high speed internet access on the boat in Mexico.

©2010 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Anyway, no matter what the cost, a modem is only as good as its speed. As we sat at the Palomar Marina in La Paz, which is within 3G-tower range, we can tell you that the modem honks like a duck. We, as well as many others, can testify that it gives us faster internet access than we have at the Latitude offices in Mill Valley. What’s more, based on our recent outing to Caleta Partida, we can report that very high internet speeds are also possible at some spots almost all the way out to the island, a distance of more than 20 miles from La Paz. In fact, we’re currently gathering lat/long positions from Sea of Cortez participants regarding where they got good internet access close to the Caleta Partida anchorage.

According to Bill Lily of the Newport Beach-based Moontide, depending on what cell towers are around and what kind of modem you have, there are four internet speeds. As a result, you can sometimes get a couple of bars, but the internet access is painfully — if not worthlessly — slow.

The current Telcel programs aren’t as good as the original ones, which offered unlimited access. So just because the folks on the boat next to you can happily bit torrent all the movies they want, it doesn’t mean you can without big additional costs. So read the fine print of any offered contracts.

Having heard a rumor that high speed internet access was available at a little cove around the corner from Ensenada Grande, the catamarans Moontide, Rotkat, Profligate and Pantera rushed over, Telcel modems at the ready, hoping for lots of bytes. They got nothing at this spot.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

While the situation isn’t perfect — which would be high-speed, low-cost, unlimited internet access everywhere — for sailors such as ourselves, who first sailed to Mexico without any electronic navigation back when it was almost impossible to even make a phone call home, it’s a delightful mind-blower. The only downside is that some folks — we won’t mention Doña de Mallorca by name — seem to have a crack-like addiction to the internet. That’s not a good thing when cruising.

Check out the May issue of Latitude 38 for the GPS coordinates for the most honking internet connections off Isla Partida.

Much to the relief of her crew’s family members, the 45-ft cutter Columbia arrived safely at Coquimbo, Chile, on Sunday — 35 days after her anticipated arrival — thus ending a search that involved hundreds of vessels over thousands of miles of open ocean.