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July 28, 2010

New Girl in Town

Seemed like everyone in Sausalito wanted to meet the new girl in town.

© John Skoriak

If someone had asked Sausalito yacht skipper Paul Dines to find a well-built traditional sailing schooner, survey her, purchase her, haul and ship her from Miami to Ensenada, offload her, sail her to Sausalito, and insure that she would pass a Coast Guard inspection — all within 60 days — he would have said it was impossible. But that’s exactly what Dines and his partner Marina O’Neil did. And that 79-ft (LOA) schooner is now the latest addition to the San Francisco Bay charter fleet, operated by the pair’s company, S.F. Bay Adventures.

Despite the lousy economy, there’s substantial demand here for traditionally-rigged vessels, so Dines and O’Neil went in search of a schooner — in both the U.S. and Canada — that was ideally suited to chartering. In Miami, they eventually found the steel-hulled gaffer Liberty. Launched in 1991, she’d been built specifically for chartering and was Coast Guard-certified to carry 47 passengers. Perfect!

Captain Paul takes the wheel as First Mate Marina shows him love. Buying this 79-ft schooner was a gamble, and getting her home to the Bay was no easy feat.

© 2010 John Skoriak

So they took the plunge. With hurricane season approaching, Dines did some work on her in Florida, then shipped her from Fort Lauderdale to Ensenada, Mexico. From there, he and his crew sailed her to Sausalito in only 3 ½ days. At her new homeport, she was soon re-named Freda B, in honor of O’Neil’s grandmother, who was raised in Mill Valley area and worked on liberty ships in Sausalito during WWII.

Freda B greeted her guests with grace and flair.

© John Skoriak

The sleek gaffer passed her Coast Guard passenger vessel inspection a few weeks ago, and the crew got her into top shape in time for an on-board open house last Sunday at Schoonmaker Point Marina. More than 100 well-wishers showed up to celebrate, toasting Freda B‘s bright future with glasses of O’Neil’s homemade Sangria — a warm welcome for the new girl in town. (For info on chartering her, contact SF Bay adventures at  (415) 331-0444 or check out the website.

Ten-Year-Old to Singlehand Around the World?

Sure, why not?

The age bar for singlehanding around the world keeps slipping lower. For a long time it was the 20s, then Zac Sunderland of Thousand Oaks did it at 17 years, 229 days. A few weeks later, Brit Mike Perham — now in search of more fame by wanting to become the youngest to fly solo around the world, too — lowered the barrier to 17 years, 164 days. And most recently Aussie Jessica Watson dropped it all the way down to 16 years, 362 days.

But now, thanks to the blessing of the Dutch courts, little 14-year-old Laura Dekker — who happily poses around her 37-ft Jeanneau Gin Fizz Guppy for press photos in girly pink things like a young Brittany Spears —  will be starting her attempt in a couple of weeks. Laura actually wanted to start at age 13, but her mom — we all know what a drag they can be! — was against the idea. So Laura was put under state protective services back in October. Somehow the 13-year-old rascal managed to escape to the sailing hotbed of St. Martin in the West Indies for a few days, but that was so many months ago. Now Dekker’s mother, perhaps finally getting hip to how much fame and money are at stake — Watson has reportedly pulled in close to a million — has, just like the Dutch courts, come around to see a solo circumnavigation as a suitable endeavor for a young girl who is too young to drive a car or enroll in high school.

Laura Dekker poses for cameras on her 37-ft Jeanneau Gin Fizz Guppy.

© 2010 Webb Logg

Hilariously, one person who seemingly would be against Dekker’s attempt is Laurence Sunderland, most famous for sending two of his teens around the world on solo circumnavigation attempts — and who is a self-styled authority of sorts on the difference in childhood development between the ages of 15 and 16. Sunderland reportedly told the L.A. Times, "I wouldn’t let her [Abby, his 16-year-old daughter] go at 13, or at 14, or at 15. There’s a strength factor and they need to be mentally grounded in what this entails. It’s not a frivolous thing. The ocean is terrifying, and you have to be prepared for all the adversities that it throws at you."

[Laurence Sunderland has apparently been less forthcoming with the L.A. Times‘ requests to see records on the sat phone calls between the Sunderlands on land and Abby Sunderland around the time of her dismasting in the Southern Ocean. It’s absolutely outrageous, we know, but apparently some people wonder if, after the dismasting, the Sunderlands hadn’t been in contact with their daughter all along, but didn’t tell anyone — let alone the Australian government that was spending $300,000 to have a Qantas commercial jetliner search for the girl — in an effort to let the worldwide drama build. Sure, Abby’s parents appeared surprisingly composed on television when the fate of their daughter was unknown, but nobody, absolutely nobody — except, of course, for those publicity-hungry Balloon Boy parents — would stoop to anything so low.]

Can the 14-year-old like Dekker complete a singlehanded solo circumnavigation? Probably. A circumnavigation is nothing more than a series of ocean passages, and as Perham proved a few years ago, even a 14-year-old can singlehand across the Atlantic. If the dad is close by in another boat, and if the singlehander spends most of the trip on the phone with family and friends, and if there is a support crew ready to meet the boat at any port where it’s needed — all things that have been done in the past — it’s just that much easier.

We’ve had an 17-year-old, a 16-year-old, we’re working on a 14-year-old — do we hear 10? Please, not all at once.

Kerry Reconsiders

After a hurricane of public outrage, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry has decided that he will pay $450,000 in sales tax to the state of Massachusetts following the purchase of his $7 million Ted Fontaine-designed 76-ft sailing yacht Isabel. By keeping the boat in neighboring Rhode Island, it had not been subject to the tax.

What Senator Kerry cannot undo is the fact that he had a $7 million yacht built in New Zealand rather than New England. It’s a big deal to a lot of people in his neck of the woods.

Shadow’s Lessons Learned

Peter Stoneberg, Shadow‘s owner, got back to us on Monday evening with a wrap-up and some lessons learned from his and his crew’s capsizing on Sunday afternoon following the YRA’s second-half opener.
"The boat sustained some damage that can be fixed and the carbon sails were destroyed, but everyone was okay. It was a pretty typical summer day on the Bay; blowing low 20’s with a moderate chop in the Circle. We were heading northwest from Treasure Island towards Angel Island. We got hit with a puff as we were bearing away, the rudders stalled, and the boat gently and slowly went over until our 68-ft mast hit the mud 35 feet down. Craig Healy gallantly swam a line out to Sue Hoeschler who had become separated from the boat. Patrick Whitmarsh gave us a bit of a fright as intitially we could not see him, but he was still warm, dry and safe 20 feet in the air, perched on the upper hull. We were crewed by a group of experienced and talented sailors who were well-prepared. The crew included Healy, Whitmarsh, Hoeschler, Andy McCormick, Lowell Freeman, and Laurie Dennis. Everyone was wearing PFDs, and most of us had knives, whistles and handheld VHFs in our pockets.  
"Fortunately we were in a fairly busy part of the Bay, so boats were quickly on us to stand by and lend support. Two 40-plus-ft power boats were there within five minutes, followed closely by the Encinal YC race committee boat, the Sydney 36 Encore, the Coast Guard, the Marin Sheriff and an S.F. Police boat. Everyone was safe and calm; we knew how to right the boat, we just needed two big anchors — ours were underwater or otherwise inaccessible — and a Protector to pull us upright. Some helpful soul called the StFYC Race Office, where John Craig, Race Manager, jumped into action. Race Coordinator Melanie Roberts and their Protector were dispatched to the scene. She arrived at the same time as Steve Stroub’s Tiburon Protector and the Shadow Protector coming from Paradise Cay. We borrowed a couple of anchors, tied a righting line to the main beam, goosed the Protector engines and, after a couple of tries, Shadow came upright as gently as she went over.
"It gave us great comfort to know that there are so many capable people and assets ready, willing and able to be deployed to assist boats and crews in need. Specifically the Encinal YC mark-set boat operated by Charles Hodgkins was very helpful, taking a couple of our sailors off the catamaran, and lending assistance and assets where possible. Encore owners Wayne and Susie Cody and their crew, North Sails’ Pete McCormick, Will, Nick, and several others were very, very helpful providing lines, anchors and skilled personnel. Stroub did a masterful job positioning and driving his Protector to bring the boat upright. Most of the Encore sailing team stayed with us, helping sort all the issues until the boat was safely tied up at SFYC. The Coast Guard and S.F. Police all stood by dutifully until we righted the boat and were under tow. There were probably 50 people and 10 vessels that helped or were available to help, and to them we are exceedingly grateful.
"Ours was a pretty benign incident, but from a safety standpoint we learned or re-learned some important lessons. The life you save might be your own.
  • First, always, always, always wear a PFD. The water is cold, waves that look small when on a boat are huge when in the water, and even the strongest swimmers find it nearly impossible to swim for very long in foul weather gear.
  • Carry a waterproof handheld VHF in your foulie pocket. Communications are key to safety and the wind makes it impossible to hear voices and very hard to see swimmers from more than 20-feet away.  
  • Stay with the boat. Swimmers and boats move at dramatically different speeds, so catching a boat once you’re separated from it is very difficult. Hang on "for your life."
  • Don’t wear cotton. One of our strongest guys went hypothermic very quickly because he had jeans and a cotton T-shirt under his foulies. Quality, high-tech synthetic gear is worth its weight in gold when wet and cold.
  • Carry a fixed blade knife, whistle and light where it can be easily reached. A line wrapped around my foot, and I never could have gotten my Leatherman open to cut away if the boat had gone under. Strap a fixed blade knife several places around the boat where they can be easily reached.
  • Carry an EPIRB and consider the new personal EPIRBs for all crew. They are cheap life insurance.
  • Next time you see the Coast Guard, the police boats or a volunteer race committee boat, give them a friendly wave. Some people may not like their policies prohibiting assistance to try to save personal property, but they are a MOST welcome sight when needed, and they are more than willing to risk their lives to save yours. I’d rather lose my boat than have the Coasties busy saving my replaceable boat while someone else’s irreplaceable life was in danger.  
"Thanks again to everyone involved. If we ever meet in a yacht club or on the waterfront please tap me on the shoulder so I can shake your hand and buy you a beer. We hope we did not inconvenience anyone too much on a Sunday afternoon — we look forward to seeing you back on the water again very soon!"
Peter Stoneberg is all smiles as his Formula 40 Shadow is back upright and ready to be towed after yesterday’s YRA Second-Half Opener.
Some sailors merely dream about crewing in exotic destinations; others, like Kat Gartin and Brian Morrison are more proactive — a lot more proactive.
It’s not quite as bad as if he’d won the Presidential election and discovered that his Vice President had been a bald-faced liar in repeatedly denying that he was a baby daddy, but longtime Massachusetts Senator John Kerry has foolishly sailed into some very hot water with his constituents.