July 20, 2011

Hurricane Dora Threatens Mexican Coast

Dora’s predicted track should keep her from directly hitting land, but hurricanes have a tendency to act unpredictably.


Hurricane Dora is making both sailors and landlubbers nervous today all along the central Pacific coast of Mexico, as she recently built in strength to a Category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph.

With her center currently located roughly 200 miles southwest of Acapulco, a storm watch is in effect from Lazaro Cardenas to Cabo Corrientes. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Hurricane Center predicts the eye will pass Puerto Vallarta in the early hours of Friday morning, and will pass Cabo San Lucas approximately 24 hours later.

With any luck, Dora will make a hard left and fizzle out before wreaking havoc ashore.


Needless to say, however, such storms don’t always behave according to computerized predictions. But with any luck, Dora may make a hard left and head out to sea, as many similar storms have done in the past. In any case heavy storm-generated swells are expected along the central coast which could wreak havoc on coastal communities, even if winds diminish.

Long Night for a Bay Windsurfer

It would be easy to assume the worst if you’d heard a 62-year-old windsurfer had been missing on the Bay for more than 13 hours, but Cathy Caton’s rescue Tuesday morning after spending a very long night getting sucked in and out of South San Francisco Bay was a surprisingly happy ending to a potentially deadly story. Caton and her husband, Steve Hamman, 63, took off from the Foster City shoreline Monday afternoon around 5 p.m. for a quick half-hour ride. A broken mast left Caton disabled and adrift. It must have been terribly frustrating — and probably quite frightening — when her handheld VHF’s batteries died shortly thereafter, not to mention when she discovered her strobe light’s battery was dead. 

Cathy Caton was a little cold and hungry when she was rescued after a night drifting around South Bay.


Just after dawn on Tuesday, a Coast Guard helo crew spotted Caton just north of the San Mateo Bridge. They dropped a rescue swimmer and hoisted Caton aboard. A very experienced windsurfer, Caton was wearing good protective gear — a wetsuit, hat, gloves, PFD — which the Coasties noted helped her survive the night. Another factor was that conditions were calm and relatively warm. The retired doctor later declined to be taken to the hospital, instead opting to head straight home — and no doubt to a very hot shower.

Esmeralda Delayed Until Thursday

If you took our advice and sailed out to greet the Chilean tall ship Esmeralda yesterday as she entered the Golden Gate, you may have thought she somehow slipped by you unnoticed. That wasn’t the case. Being 370 feet long, she’s not the sort of vessel that goes anywhere without turning heads and inspiring awe. She was simply delayed by a day due to mechanical problems.

Esmeralda’s unusual rig allows her to set as many as 21 sails. So far her top speed has been 17.5 knots – not bad for a vessel that displaces 3,673 tons.

© 2011 Chilean Navy

Her new arrival time — if you’re willing to give her a second chance — is 7:00 a.m. tomorrow (Thursday, July 21). She is expected to arrive at her Pier 27 berth by 8:30 a.m., with her crew of nearly 400 following their custom of singing anthems as they approach. She’ll be open to the public this Friday and Saturday (July 21-23) from 2 to 6 p.m. (and perhaps also part of Thursday), with her departure set for Sunday at 3 p.m. Check out the ship’s website for details.

Crony Capitalism About to Degrade Your GPS?

U.S. taxpayers, via the Department of Defense, paid for the development, installation and maintenance of our GPS system. Now it’s in danger of degradation anywhere within the range of cell phone towers — thanks to what would appear to be crony capitalism of the worst sort at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the White House.

The deal is that hedge fund manager Phil Falcone and his Harbinger Partners have had a rough time of it lately. The value of the fund plunged from about $26 billion to just $9 billion, and the likes of Goldman Sachs have been pulling their money out. Further, the District Attorney’s Office in Manhattan is going after Falcone with civil and criminal charges for failing to disclose he accepted $113 million in personal loans from the hedge fund to pay his personal taxes — giving you an idea of how much money he was making. In addition, there are allegations that when things got bad, Falcone allowed some investors to pull their money out while others weren’t allowed to. Some people being treated better than others seems to be a cloud that follows Falcone around.

According to a February letter by the National Legal and Policy Center, Falcone identified a potential loophole in FCC regulations that would allow him to create a wireless communication service at a tiny fraction — $6 billion versus $40 billion — of the investment required by all other competitors. That’s because he wouldn’t have to establish a satellite system like everyone else to go with the land system. It’s also a wireless communications network that GPS experts such as Charlie Trimble and Stan Honey say would degrade GPS accuracy when within range of cell phone towers because the frequencies of the two services are so close together.

According to a letter written by the Center, there have been "a series of odd procedural decisions at an independent regulatory agency — the Federal Communications Commission — that appear to have been undertaken solely for the financial benefit of one individual. These process decisions, series of contacts, apparent appearances of impropriety, and potential conflicts of interest seem to reveal improper influence peddling before the Executive Branch, Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and the Federal Communications Commission.

They are talking about when Falcone and LightSquared CEO Sanjiv Ahuja personally visited the White House and met with the Chief of Staff at the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) — and the next day, Harbinger’s signing of a merger agreement with Sky Terra, which owned the part of the band next to GPS. Coincidence?

They are talking about things like Falcone’s getting government approval of Harbinger/LightSquared buying Sky Terra in just five days instead of the normal 180 days, and in other ways having obstacles conveniently removed. Coincidence?

They are talking about Falcone, a long and large contributor to the Republican Party, suddenly contributing the max to Democrats instead. They’re talking about his wife doing the same thing. They’re talking about Ahuja doing the same thing. Coincidence?

They are talking about Harbinger hiring the Palmetto lobbying group, a firm that employs lobbyist Steve Glaze. In a shocking coincidence — who would have known? — Steve Glaze is married to Terri Glaze, a senior staffer at the FCC. Only a complete cynic would think that his employment and her decisions or influence were in any way linked.

If you want to read about more such shenanigans — and get so angry you want to storm the White House — read http://nlpc.org/sites/default/files/HarbingerLetter.pdf.

If you just want to make sure that the FCC and the White House don’t allow your GPS to be degraded ‘near the bricks’ which, after all, is where you need it most, file your letter of opposition at Boat U.S.’s website. The deadline for public comment is July 30, so be sure to do it today.

Where does the Coast Guard stand on this: Rear Admiral Robert Day, Coast Guard Chief Information Officer (CIO) and the Assistant Commandant for Command, Control, Communications, and Information Technology, made the following testimony before a committee at the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation Committee: "Thank you for inviting the Coast Guard to discuss the new terrestrial service proposed by LightSquared, and its potential to interfere and impact the spectrum used by the Global Positioning System (GPS). Although test results are still preliminary, and the testing was conducted at power levels below those at which LightSquared is authorized to operate, the Coast Guard believes that without mitigation, there could be adverse affects on its surface operations in coastal and inland waterways in the vicinity of LightSquared transmission sites, and on its aviation operations in areas surrounding the LightSquared towers. In fact, Coast Guard missions are just a portion of the many DHS operations and regulated activities that rely on GPS and could be affected."

Hmmmmmm. Did you catch the bit about LightSquared running tests "at power levels below those at which LightSquared is authorized to operate"? Can you imagine why they might want to skew the testing that way? No, we can’t think of any reason either.

A moment of TransPac zen. Bob Lane’s Andrews 63 Medicine Man sending it into the finish at Diamond Head.
Two sailors died early this morning during the 103rd Annual Chicago-to-Mackinac Race when a severe thunderstorm sent wind speeds into the 50s.
After a series of obstacles that have prevented us from heading north from La Cruz to do the Baja Bash with Profligate, we were all ready to go.