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June 23, 2010

Tar Baby II Dismasted Near Niue

Louis and Alicia van Praag being ferried from their beloved Tar Baby II by the crew of a nearby fishing vessel. No injuries were reported in the dismasting.


In a January ‘Lectronic, we wrote about the heartwarming tale of Louis and Alicia van Praag. The Praags had met a year earlier while Alicia, 27, was on a working vacation in Australia. Louis, 36, took her for a sail on Sydney Harbor, which clearly won her heart because within a year, they’d bought their Westsail 32, Tar Baby II, in California to take them across the Pacific and on to Louis’s homeland.

Other than a tragically horizontal stump of a mast, Tar Baby looks surprisingly tidy. We hope to get the full story soon.


On Wednesday, we received word from Louis’s mother Wendy that the couple had set off their EPIRB near Niue. "They’d left Tahiti some time ago and were on their way to Niue after visiting the Cook Islands and Palmerston Atoll," she wrote. There are no details on what happened to the van Praags, but a Royal New Zealand Air Force plane found Tar Baby dismasted but otherwise in good shape.

Tar Baby’s approximate location. Why the rescue vessel couldn’t drop the van Praag’s off at Niue on their way to Pago Pago is a mystery.

© Google Earth

Yesterday, Wendy reported that the crew of the Taiwanese longline fishing vessel Tunago were able to pull the van Praag’s from Tar Baby, leaving her buttoned up and afloat. "The New Zealand rescue staff could not persuade the captain to take them to Niue, just 75 miles away," Wendy reports, "so their next port of call will be Pago Pago, Samoa. We’re hoping someone near Niue might be able to tow Tar Baby to port so Louis and Alicia can reclaim her. Otherwise, it looks like goodbye Tar Baby."

Tar Baby II in happier days.

© Louis van Praag

If you have any contacts in Niue who might be willing to help, email LaDonna.

America’s Cup Draft Protocol Released

We know we’d promised to give you a run-down of this weekend’s more local events today, but we’re pre-empting that for a look at the draft protocol for the 34th America’s Cup. The document was released 45 minutes before our deadline for today’s ‘Lectronic by the Golden Gate YC and Club Nautico di Roma, so we didn’t have enough time to peruse it. But after a cursory look at its 56 pages, we’ve identified what we think are some key points.

The concept of establishing a level playing field looks like it made its way into this document. The most obvious manifestation being that the Defender will not be sailing in the challenger series. There will be neutral management in the form of the Event Authority, which will handle the commerical side of the Match and will be a Golden Gate YC body. An America’s Cup Race Management will manage the actual on-the-water racing and consist of one representative from the defender and one from the Challenger of Record plus a WSTA-appointed director that will answer to an ISAF-appointed jury. Neither body will be accountable to the other.

First of all, the idea that you can do it for the $6 million dollars Larry Ellison had thrown around a few months ago is out the window; with a $3 million performance bond required, it’s going to be expensive. It appears that it will be at least on par with AC 32. Although the sailing blackout dates should help reduce payroll, teams will still be able to build two boats, and modify them by up to 50% of their hull surface. Scale models will be limited to 1/5th scale, representing a significant savings in expensive tank-testing time which is of less value at that scale. Teams will be limited to 25 sails for the actual Cup match, with limits for the Challenger series and a possible Defender series to be determined. Teams will be limited to only four mast tubes, four keel fins and three bulbs; although no explicit mention was made that the class would be a monohull, this would seem to indicate that — unless this is a red herring, which we doubt, in part given the timetable given for the next key point.

The event will feature six to eight pre-regattas per year in 2011 and 2012 in the spirit of the World Sailing Teams Association’s Louis Vuitton Series. There will be at least two in 2013 prior to the event with the final being a fleet racing series. The expense to compete will be moderated somewhat by the event authority covering shipping. The incentive to be competitive in this series is that the winners of each year get more sail cards allocated to them for the challenger series.

There will be two types of boats used in what’s looking like a four-year Cup cycle. The "2011 Class Yachts" will be used in the pre-regattas until December 31, 2011. We interepret this to mean that V5 IACC boats will be used until that time in order to get the series up and running. By that date, teams will be required to have measured in and launched a new ‘America’s Cup Class Yacht’ — the rule will be published by September 30 of this year — to be used in 2012. The teams’ second boats may not be launched until nine months before the event.

Entry into the Challenger Selection Series and 2013 pre-regattas will be dependent on the number of challengers. If there are eight or fewer challengers, all challengers will proceed to the Challenger Selection Series; if there are up to 10 challengers, the lowest scoring eight challengers in the pre-regattas
will go to the series; or if there are 11 or more challengers, the lowest scoring 10 challengers in the pre-regattas will go.

There’s a section in the draft about nationality rules being open-ended as there’s a provision for both having it completely open, or requiring 20% of the sailors be citizens of the challenging club’s country. So we’ll have to wait and see how that pans out.

Perhaps most interestingly, there’s siginificant attention paid to broadcasting and media rights, and requirements for having the equipment onboard to do that. Also, there’s a section regarding electronic and board games — America’s Cup sailing on the Wii anyone?

Like we said before, we knocked this out in a very short period of time, and it’s quite possible we misread some of the prescriptions in the draft protocol. We know for sure that we left some things out that you might care about, so check out the document for yourself at

Singlehanders Keep on Keepin’ On

As the offshore weather has settled, so have the stomachs of the 13 solo sailors currently racing in the 17th Singlehanded TransPac. "I’ve just started being able to hold down my food," reported Ronnie Simpson on the Justson 30 Warriors Wish. "I always say I never get seasick, and I usually don’t, but those first two days. Wow. The velocity with which my freeze dried spaghetti exited my mouth and covered the cockpit was most impressive."

Unfortunately, the calmer seas also mean calmer winds as the once-stable high has dipped down to steal wind from the northern-most boats. "The Pacific High jumped me," writes the always-entertaining Simpson. "It snuck up on me from around a corner, jumped on my back, punched me twice in the kidneys and then stole my lunch money. Then it said mean things about my mom. Damnit."

Dave King’s Westsail 32 Saraband has kept up with the faster-rated boats in the fleet, but has been caught in the high.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Right out of the gate, racers had a choice to make: try for a shorter, rhumbline route, or sail some extra miles on the traditionally windier southerly route. The fleet’s morning position report shows that perhaps the more conservative racers made the right choice — for now. As has been proven time and again in this 2,120-mile marathon, anything can happen.

Take Mirage and Bandicoot, for example. Both skippers returned to the Bay — Mirage returned twice — due to problems with their electronics. Initially reporting that they planned to retire from the race, both have rallied and will be restarting this afternoon. Such is the nature of the singlehanded racer.

Al Germain on the WylieCat 30 Bandicoot returned to the Bay after his communications failed. He now has a new satphone and plans to restart his race today, alongside dock neighbor Ben Mewes on the Black Soo Mirage, who believes he has his electrical issues worked out.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Track the position of the fleet, and read their fascinating reports, on the race’s website.

Thinking About iPad and the Southern Ocean

Different people have different needs, but in our case at least, Apple has surprisingly satisfied a whole bunch of them with what we’ve found to be the extremely useful and versatile iPad 3G. We think it will work great for a lot of other sailors, too.

Thanks to the iPad, I could check a week’s worth of weather in the Southern Ocean on a whim, without even getting out of bed. This graphic shows a lot of 35- to 45-knot stuff.

©2010 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Most people are familiar with the device’s fun uses — such as listening to music on iTunes, watching movies on Netflix, downloading books from either Kindle or Apple, watching YouTube videos, finding directions, playing games, doing navigation, and on and on and on and on.

But we’ve also found the iPad to be a great business machine — at least for our business. For example, while lying in the quarter berth of our cat at the work dock at Driscoll’s Boatyard, we start our morning at about 6 a.m. Thanks to the iPad, we’re able to skim through the New York Times, the L.A. Times, the Chronicle, the Financial Times, the Wall St. Journal and Bloomberg before we even get out of bed. Yeah, we could and had been doing all that with our iPhone, but we were about to go blind. With the iPad, it’s like seeing everything on a big high-def screen. It’s gorgeous! Then we check our email. It’s also easy to bang out short responses to email while lying in bed. If we need to do any research, Google is at our fingertips. Yeah, it’s a great business machine. The one and only downside is that it’s a little heavier than ideal and could benefit from some handgrips. Those improvements will come with time.

There are limitations to the iPad, of course. If we’re going to write a long and serious response to an email, we’d go to a table and use the optional iPad keyboard — or more likely our Apple laptop. And while it’s possible to do lots of cloud computing on the iPad using various Google programs, if we’re going to do a lot of writing, sophisticated fooling around in Photoshop, or complex magazine layouts in InDesign, the iPad is the wrong tool. But we’ve been surprised at how much of our work can be done on it.

For instance, we were lying in our bunk about midnight last night trying to figure out a way to help readers understand how rough it is in the Southern Ocean, particularly in the winter. So we picked up our iPad, punched in, and went to the Southern Ocean. Viola, in a matter of seconds, and in vividly colored graphics, there was a week’s worth of Southern Ocean nastiness, and even in animated form. Even more impressive was going down just a little to check out the sea conditions. Thirty-foot seas? All the time, baby. That’s just the Southern Ocean in winter. The only thing missing was the location of icebergs and how cold it is down there.

As you can see from this graphic, the smallest seas in the middle Southern Ocean right now are about 12 feet and the largest are in the mid 20s. Later in the week, seas to 25 feet are forecast for even a straight line between Cape Town and Australia.

©2010 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Tangentially, a half hour later we bumped into Kathleen Torres at the West Marine Superstore. About 18 months ago, Kathleen had joined Stephen Mann aboard Mann’s Wylie 38 Tawodi for a doublehanded circumnavigation via the Southern Ocean in the more mellow summertime. "I’m a writer," says Torres, "but I’ve yet to be able to find the words to help people understand how bad the weather is down there." Torres also told us she’s immensely impressed by Abby Sunderland’s courage, but not at all by her parents’ allowing such an attempt.

If you’ve got an iPad sailing story or tip, we’d love to hear about it.