July 15, 2011

Ocean Racing News

The Oakcliff American Offshore Team on the STP 65 Vanquish is in some good company, finishing the 2950-mile Transatlantic Race next to Karl Kwok’s Farr 80 Beau Geste.

© Amory Ross

While much of our offshore focus has been on the Pacific of late, there’s a strong Bay Area connection to the Transatlantic Race. Richmond YC products Matt Noble and David Rasmussen, and San Francsico YC product Molly Robinson are an intregal part of the Oakcliff All American Offshore Team,  a group of twenty-somethings sailing the R/P STP 65 Vanquish (neé Moneypenny) against some much bigger boats with much bigger payrolls. Having been stuck behind a persistent ridge that has slowed their progress and that of the other big boats around them while allowing the slower boats they’ve already passed to catch up, the AAOT sailors may not have been able to put up a winning time but they managed to finish with some company yesterday, as you can see in the pic above. George David’s Rambler 100 ended up setting a new elapsed-time record of just under seven days, nearly setting a new 24-hr monohull record in the process, while Ken Read’s Volvo 70 Puma took overall honors.

As this edition of ‘Lectronic was uploaded — and long after Racing Editor Rob Grant posted this story from his hotel room in Hawaii — the TransPac Tracker shows Bella Mente snugly tucked into her berth at the Ala Wai while Mag 80 is just 8.6 miles out.

© 2011 TransPac

Back here on the West Coast, yesterday was a tense day of watching the tracker from our Hawaiian hotel. We had to post this last night, because it’s too close to call between Hap Fauth’s R/P 74 Bella Mente and Doug Baker’s Andrews 80 Magnitude 80, and both were expected to finish early this morning. If we got lucky, they both finished after sunrise, which meant we were able to take advantage of a pre-dawn raid on a big sporty to get photos. But the time difference means we’ll have to put those up on our Facebook page, because ‘Lectronic will have already been posted. Once the boats are inside the 100-mile ring, their info will go real-time on the tracker, so you can follow it yourself! With about 330 miles to go this morning, the two boats were separated by nearly 130 miles north to south, setting up a hero or zero situation for Bella‘s navigator Ian Moore and Mag‘s navigator Ernie Rachau, with corrected time division honors still up for grabs between Bella and Lorenzo Berho’s Kernan 68 Peligroso. Division 2 had the same size split between Jorge Ripstein’s TP 52 Patches and Chip Megeath’s R/P 45 Criminal Mischief. It’s very similar in the overall corrected-time leading sled division where James McDowell’s SC 70 Grand Illusion is 100 miles north of Philippe Kahn’s Pegasus MotionX and just barely ahead on corrected time.

Mendocino Queen Attacked in the Caribbean

Allen and Kate Barry, liveaboards and worldwide cruisers for 20 years aboard the San Francisco-based DownEast 38 Mendocino Queen, report they were assaulted and robbed around 10:45 p.m. on the night of July 2 while at anchor just off Baradel Island in the Tobago Cays Marine Reserve of St. Vincent & The Grenadines. Having spent thousands of nights on the hook from Hong Kong to East Africa, and having travelled to and through 35 countries by boat and land, this was the first time they’d been assaulted. This is an edited version of a report by Kate.

Allen and Kate Berry suffered a violent attack on their boat Mendocino Queen on July 2 while anchored at the Tobago Cays.

Mendocino Queen
© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

"We spent the day snorkeling the outside edge of Horseshoe Reef, where we found sharks, a good number of turtles and a lot of reef fish. Because of a tropical wave, only four boats remained in the anchorage that night. Night came on very dark with no moon. And thanks to the wind, the surf on the reef, the chop lapping against the hull, and the ground tackle groaning, it was not a quiet night.

"At about 10 p.m., Allen, who was below reading, thought he heard a slow-running outboard, so he went on deck with a big flashlight and shined it about. He caught a glimpse of a small boat motoring away. About 10 minutes later, there was a sound at the bow, and Allen, who had come below again, went on deck to see two men wearing masks board the bow of our boat. One raced down the deck toward Allen, with something in his hand.

"Allen rushed below and grabbed the first heavy object he found, which was the 4 D-cell flashlight, which is about 14 inches long. He also yelled for me, as I had just gone to bed. Allen started back up the companion stairs, which were now blocked by one of the boarders. Allen repeatedly struck the man with the flashlight and kept screaming, “Get off my boat, you motherfucker!" at the top of his lungs. The boarder was trying to force his way below by kicking Allen in the arms, chest and face, and kept screaming "I’m going to kill you, motherfucker!" Allen’s resistance gave me enough time to get on the VHF and put out a distress call. There was a lot of noise, and the vessel anchored closest to us heard both the commotion and the VHF call.

"The man attacking Allen got a hold of the flashlight about the same time I finished the VHF call. I attacked him with my fists, at which point he hit me over the head with the flashlight, splitting the skin on my scalp. Blood poured down my head and over my neck and shoulders. The second assailant then pointed a gun at my head, by which time the other man had a knife to Allen’s throat.

"By this time the VHF was alive and loud, as the woman on the boat next to us kept broadcasting, ‘A vessel is being boarded and attacked in the Tobago Cays.’ She kept repeating the message over and over, in a loud and agitated voice. Although there was no chance of our being rescued by authorities for hours, it made the assailants very nervous to know their crime was being witnessed and reported. They were obviously anxious to leave.

"Nonetheless, the main assailant kept the knife to Allen’s throat and kept screaming over and over, ‘Where do you hide the money, motherfucker, you can die tonight!’

"Allen lead him to the V-berth, opened a cabinet, and pulled out a zippered leather satchel that had a $ sign on it. He opened it and pulled out envelopes labeled US$, EC$ and EURO. ‘Where is the rest of your money, motherfucker?’ the assailant demanded as he pushed the knife a little harder. ‘That’s all there is,’ I told him. ‘No, wait,’ I said, ‘there’s a little more in the nav station.’ We went there and he snatched the change purse I pointed out to him.

"The assailants were anxious to leave, as the VHF was still broadcasting the attack. They left me sitting on the cabin sole bleeding and took Allen on deck, the knife still pressed to his neck, still screaming about killing him and him dying. Figuring they were going to knife him or throw him overboard, Allen tried to come up with a plan. But they simply boarded their little boat — it looked like all the other local boats in the area — and took off.

"We were able to contact some friends on boats on the hook at Union Island’s Clifton Harbor, and they contacted the police, who asked us to come to Union Island to file a report. The idea that we would raise anchor at midnight and risk the many dangerous reefs in the area was absurd. This is a ‘daytime only’ area of navigation. Our friends stressed that this had been a serious crime, a violent assault with weapons and injured people, and finally shamed the police into acting. A Park Service boat arrived at Mendocino Queen about 1:30 a.m. with four police and two Park Service people. A report of sorts was taken on folded scraps of wet paper. We were impressed that at that hour of the night, the authorities managed to assemble a boat and six officers and travel in poor weather to respond to this incident. The officers were kind and concerned people, but there was really nothing they could do for us.

"When they left, we locked up our boat before we went to bed. We hadn’t done that in years. The next day we went to Union Island, where we were extremely well-treated by other cruisers.

"Looking back, we seemed to operate on ‘automatic’ during the assault. We don’t recall fear — there was no time for it. We fought until there was no more point in it, then more or less went along with what the robbers wanted. Which was money. When they left, we did the practical things, like inspect for wounds and wash up blood. We were on the radio a lot of the time. A neighbor offered to come over, but we declined. It was a poor night to launch a dinghy, but we appreciated the offer.

"We don’t wake up at night with the memory of this. We are not suspicious of every local boat we see. And we want to continue onward. We always knew this could happen, and it could have been much worse. We could have been hurt or killed. We could have been emotionally traumatized. We could have been, but we were not. If this had happened early in our cruising days, it may have been more unsettling. We have been living aboard and cruising for about 20 years, and we’ve been to 35 counties by boat and by land. We know the risks that come with this lifestyle, and we willingly take them. It’s our life, and we like it."

In the last issue of Latitude, we wrote that we thought the Caribbean was a much more dangerous area to cruise than Mexico. It’s incidents such as this, plus last summer’s brutal beating of the late Mike Harker of the Manhattan Beach-based Hunter 49 Wanderer III that make us feel this way. In Mexico, almost all the violence is narco-vs-narco or -government. In the Caribbean, there is lots of ‘rob ’em because they’re rich or white’ kind of crime, often very violent.

Follow the Freedom Flag

A patriotic apparition? No, it’s the Freedom Flag, which will be flying over San Francisco Bay today in support of vets.

© 2011 Project Freedom Flag

If you look out across San Francisco Bay today and see a huge American flag fluttering on the breeze while seemingly unattached to anything solid, fear not. It’s actually affixed to a parasail’s tow line which is tethered to a powerboat below.

What’s the point? Organizers of Project Freedom Flag know that viewing the flag triggers feelings of patriotism in most Americas, and apparently the bigger the flag, the stronger those patriotic feelings are. They hope to channel those patriotic urges into donations which will fund the start-up of many small businesses for U.S. military veterans.

While this may seem like an odd approach to fundraising, it is definitely an attention-getter. And who knows, with a little luck they might have a substantial impact on the lives of many returning soldiers during the tough transition to mainstream living. With that in mind, we wish them the best of luck. The Freedom Flag team hopes to tour the entire country to garner support.

As long-distance sailors like to point out to nervous landlubbers, it’s not the ocean that’s so dangerous, it’s the hard stuff around the edges.