On November 5, four days after leaving San Diego on what was to be a two-year circumnavigation, singlehander Dennis Howard was taken off his San Diego-based Flicka 20 Avalo by the crew of the 378-ft Coast Guard vessel Mellon, and his boat was left to drift. Howard has now filed a claim against the Coast Guard for $150,000 in damages, part of it being the loss of his boat — and most of his earthly possessions — which haven’t been seen since.
It is a complicated situation. The decision to force Howard, a former health care executive, to leave his boat rested on the shoulders of the Executive Officer of the Mellon. The Coast Guard says that in such a situation, it’s the responsibility of the commanding officer of the cutter to assess the overall situation — from the sea state to what he knew about the boat — to determine if it was a life-threatening situation. If it was, he was obligated to declare it a "manifestly unsafe voyage" and have Howard taken off the boat.
Some of the things that might have swayed the Executive Officer’s decision is that Howard, 62, is legally blind as a result of an illness. Significantly, the Coast Guard was there with a 378-footer from San Diego because some of Howard’s friends, responding to what Howard apparently had described as an emergency in a phone call, had called them. In addition, Howard was on a mere 20-ft boat, the boom’s gooseneck had broken in a storm the night before, he’d lost the use of his small outboard, and there was another strong storm approaching.
Before anyone jumps to the conclusion that the Coast Guard made the correct decision, they should consider the other side of the story. Howard claims that he’s been a sailor for 30 years. A number of other legally blind people have made remarkable passages. For example, Hank Dekker did the ’86 Singlehanded TransPac in a Laser 28 named Outta Sight, and Scott Duncan and Pam Habek, both of whom are legally blind, did the Ha-Ha and sailed their Valiant 32 Tournesol all the way to Australia. Howard was aboard a Flicka 20, a little brick shithouse of a boat as opposed to some lightly built daysailer. The fact that the boat no longer had a motor nor a useable mainsail should have been irrelevant, because there was plenty of sea room, and eventually Howard would be sailing downwind. Once the storm passed, he would no doubt have been able to jury rig his main. Howard had also prepared for the upcoming storm, having deployed a storm anchor. Lastly, although he had an EPIRB, he apparently didn’t set it off. Those are a lot of arguments for his contention that he should have been allowed to stay with his boat.
As we said, it was a difficult situation. The Executive Officer probably doesn’t know the different between a Flicka 20 and a lightly-built Clipper Marine 20, and likely had no idea whether the little boat was suitable for such weather. Then, too, he was in no position to evaluate Howard’s ability to see. Can you imagine the uproar — and lawsuit — that would have followed if Howard had been allowed to stay with his boat and was never seen again? Or how such a decision might have haunted the Executive Officer for the rest of his life?
We also understand Howard’s point of view. This voyage had no doubt given purpose to his life. An apparently experienced sailor with a seaworthy boat, he hadn’t declared a mayday or set off his EPIRB. And there was no reason to expect that once the next storm had passed, he couldn’t easily continue on to a Baja anchorage under jib and/or jury-rigged main.
Howard’s complaint is that he never got to talk to the decision-maker, and that he didn’t even know why they were on his boat until they started shouting at him to get off the boat.
We don’t have all the itty-bitty details, but given the basic story, we’d like to hear if you think the Coast Guard’s decision was correct or not, why, and who you think will win the lawsuit. Please keep your answers short and to the point.
The San Francisco Planning Commission adopted the environmental impact report for the 34th America’s Cup in a unanimous vote yesterday. With the Port Commission expected to also adopt the document today, that will leave only final ratification from the Board of Supervisors in January before construction on the piers can begin.
However, it may not be that straightforward. As many as a dozen environmental and neighborhood organizations have voiced their disapproval of the report and the plans it addresses.Those groups have 20 days to file an appeal with the Planning Commission which could delay the rest of the process.
The threat of an appeal over the EIR isn’t the only thing Russell Coutts and Larry Ellison have on their minds right now. The Golden Gate YC has been sued in the state of New York by a stillborn challenge from the African Diaspora Maritime Corporation based out of North Carolina. The suit accuses the Golden Gate YC of self-dealing in securing the real estate deals with the City, while not sharing the profits from those deals with the challengers.
If you’re planning a trip to visit cruising or chartering friends in far-flung places this holiday season, we know how you can earn their undying admiration (at least until you break the head): Take down a bundle or two of the most recent Latitude 38s! Just drop by our World Headquarters in Mill Valley to pick them up or give us a call at (415) 383-8200 – we’ll be happy to ship some to you.
This is the last weekend before Christmas, and there are just two more Bay Area lighted boat parades remaining on this year’s schedule:
- December 16 — St. Francis YC Lighted Boat Parade, from Pier 39 to Ft. Mason, 6 p.m. Info, www.stfyc.com.
- December 17 — San Rafael Lighted Boat Parade, 5 p.m. Info, www.lightedboatparade.org.
That means, you have two more chances to take your best shot at winning a Latitude T-shirt in our Lighted Boat Parade Photo Contest. Send LaDonna your best three photos of parade boats from this season by 9 a.m. on Monday, December 19. The winner will be announced in that day’s ‘Lectronic. Non-Bay Area sailors can join in the fun too — just be sure to tell us where the parade was.
Like it or not, a huge part of celebrating Christmas — as well as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa — revolves around gift giving. And for many shoppers the biggest challenge is to give something meaningful.
In addition to the seemingly endless debate about the over-commercialization of the holiday season, many have strong opinions about whether or not gift cards are too impersonal. We don’t think so. Especially when compared to a re-gifted crock pot or electric back scratcher. If a gift card or gift certificate is for something the recipient will actually use — like credit toward purchases at a marine store, sailing school or yacht charter outfit — we say, what the heck it wrong with that? And if a certificate in an envelope looks too wimpy under your tree, then just pack it in a big box and wrap it.
We’d also suggest you consider buying your sailing friends or family members a nautical book to keep them engaged in the sport — at least mentally — during the winter months. Here’s a partial list of brand new titles that have crossed our desks recently.
For the Techie
- Safer Offshor by Ed Mapes — Crisis management and emergency repairs at sea.
- Little Blue Book of Sailing Secrets by Peter Isler — Tips from the two-time America’s Cup winner.
- Celestial Navigation in the GPS Age by John Karl — For those who want to try kickin’ it old skool.
For the Dreamer
- Gone to the Sea: An Anthology by Herb McCormick — A collection of some of the best sailing stories written by one of the best sailing writers working today.
- Cruising Conversations with a Daring Duo! by Charles & Corinne Kanter — This long-time cruising couple share their experiences and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
- The Boy Behind the Gate by Larry Jacobson — Larry traded the security of home, career and relationship to realize his lifelong dream of sailing around the world.
- Bull Canyon by Lin Pardey — A departure for the famous sailor, this book details her and Larry’s time in the desert building Taleisin.
For the First Mate
- Harmony on the High Seas: When Your Mate Becomes Your Matey by Virginia Gleser — Virginia explores the leap of faith that’s required to cast off the dock lines, and shares her views on the sailing experience.
- SEAsoned: A Chef’s Journey with Her Captain by Victoria Allman — Sprinkled with over 30 mouthwatering recipes and spiced with tales of adventure.
For the Swabbie
- Our Big Blue Schoolhouse by Matthew Herron — A 13-year-old boy describes his adventures sailing down the coast of West Africa.
- The Anti-Pirate Potato Cannon & 101 Other Things for Young Mariners to Build, Try & Do on the Water by David Seidman & Jeff Hemmel — Just what the title says it is. It was a huge hit during this summer’s Delta Doo Dah.