February 29, 2012

Happy Birthday, Commodore

Man, pretty soon there won’t be any room left for candles on Commodore’s cake.

© Dick Enersen

Warwick ‘Commodore’ Tompkins of Mill Valley celebrated his 80th at the Presidio YC last weekend, attracting well-known sailors from near and far. Among those coming the farthest were Ron Holland of Vancouver and Cork, Ireland, best known for most recently designing megayachts, including the 247-ft Mirabella, which has the tallest mast in the world; and Eric Goetz, the Rhode Island builder of countless famous carbon yachts, including the 80-ft Puma. Also present were Tom Wylie, designer of many local boats, Skip Allan, noted singlehanded racer and cruiser, Bay Area sailing legend Hank Easom, circumnavigator Jim Jessie of Alameda, delivery skipper Robert Flowerman, former head of the Alameda North loft Steve Taft, and many others.

Normally we don’t note birthdays, but Tompkins, who is still cruising the South Pacific aboard his Wylie 38+ Flashgirl with his wife Nancy, was born aboard the 1896 Elbe River pilot schooner Wander Bird, crossed the Atlantic six times in his first five years, and rounded the Horn as a youth. Commodore has spent his whole life at sea or getting ready for sea. He was not only a mentor to a whole generation of then-young Baby Boomer sailors who came to the fore in the ’70s, but he’s always been a larger than life figure in sailing.

It’s deja vu all over again. All cruisers have one good ‘going to meeting’ shirt they save for special occasions.

© Dick Enersen

And as Dick Enersen points out, Commodore seems to be aging well — even better than his 80th birthday shirt, which photographic evidence shows he also wore for his 75th birthday bash! Happy B-Day Commodore, we wish we could have been there.

No Rehab for Piers 30-32

If anyone really thought the America’s Cup could be pulled off without facing a lawsuit or two, they don’t know San Francisco politics. In what appears to be an attempt at a shocking coup de grâce, former president of the Board of Supes Aaron Peskin filed a suit last week — the day before the deadline to challenge the EIR — on behalf of Waterfront Watch, claiming "procedural violations" in the way the EIR was developed and approved. But as sailing journalist Kimball Livingston wrote on his blog, Blue Planet Times, "Relax. The America’s Cup is going to be fine."

It’s was a nice thought. Piers 30-32, just south of the Bay Bridge, could have had an $80 million facelift, leaving it usable for decades to come.

© America’s Cup Event Authority

The bigger and more disturbing news came on Monday when it was announced that the City and Event Authority scrapped plans to rehab dilapidated Piers 30-32 — with Larry Ellison footing the bill to the tune of $80 mil — in favor of "consolidating" the venue plan to Pier 80 for the teams and Piers 27-29 for the Race Village. So now, instead of having the heart of the event on the Embarcadero, it’s been relegated to the southern waterfront — an area that needs the influx of jobs and cash, to be sure, but one that is far from ideal — and Piers 30-32 will continue to remain an eyesore since no self-respecting developer will touch it with a 15-ft spinnaker pole. We don’t know what the City’s gameplan was, but it certainly seems to be a case of the City cutting off its nose to spite its face.

Now it will remain an eyesore for the foreseeable future.

© 2012 No-Nose Ed

Right Boat for the Job

Most sailors wouldn’t dream of sailing from Puget Sound to San Francisco in the middle of winter. But most sailors wouldn’t be sailing a bulletproof 64-ft steel cutter along that route, which had already proven its seaworthiness during an entire circumnavigation of the Americas.

The crew strikes a pose before setting sail. Bad weather or not, they’re expected to arrive in the Bay soon.

Spirit of the Sea
© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Shortly after concluding the purchase of Spirit of the Sea (ex-Ocean Watch) last week, Berkeley-based Richard Gillette, director of a new nonprofit by the same name, along with a battle-tested crew led by two-time solo circumnavigator Mark Schrader, set sail from Anacortes, despite a sketchy forecast. "Our voyage today from Anacortes to Port Antonio saw 52 knots of wind and 5- to 8-ft seas," reported crew member Shana Bagley this morning, adding that "The 44-ton boat hit over 10 knots, speed over ground. Amaaazing!"

At that rate the vessel will have a quick trip down the coast, where she is expected to be a featured element at April’s Strictly Sail Pacific boat show. In her new role, Spirit of the Sea will be involved in a wide variety of sailing activities, primarily focused on expanding access to sailing to all stratas of the Bay Area’s population.

Cruise Ship Passengers Robbed in P.V.

"I was surprised to see nothing in Monday’s ‘Lectronic about the 22 Carnival cruise ship passengers who got robbed at gunpoint south of Puerto Vallarta the other day," writes Michael Robertson of the D.C.-based Fuji 40 Del Viento. "This is sure to stoke the anti-Mexico travel sentiment in the U.S. media, and may put pressure on the cruise ship operators to reduce the number of visits to Puerto Vallarta. It’s just a shame all around."

We didn’t run the story on Monday because ‘Lectronic was already packed, and we figured the story would hold until today. For those who didn’t see the reports, 22 passengers from the 3,000-berth Splendor were on a bus returning from a canopy tour at El Nogalito, just a few miles south of Puerto Vallarta, were indeed robbed of all their valuables at 5 p.m. by three armed and masked gunmen. Thankfully, nobody was injured.

As a result of the incident, Carnival is no longer offering the tour. It remains to be seen if they or any of the other cruise ship lines will decide to no longer call on the very popular destination.

This is a terrible black eye for Mexico, as it’s the first time we can remember tourists being specific targets of armed criminals. It’s also a terrible black eye for Puerto Vallarta, as the area has generally enjoyed a reputation for being very safe.

In a statement, Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete, chief operating officer of the Mexico Tourism Board, called the robbery "a rare and isolated incident," adding, "while 22 people were involved in this incident, in all of 2011, 22 million (22.7 million, to be precise) international tourists visited Mexico, in addition to the many millions who arrived by cruise line. The vast majority of these visitors enjoyed their stay in Mexico without any incident.”

In a similar vein, Secretary of Tourism Gloria Guevara said in an interview last week that Mexico’s drug-related problems are limited to about 80 municipios, which she likened to counties, out of about 2,500. (The U.S., by comparison, has about 3,140 counties.)

The U.S. State Department on February 8 renewed its warning about travel to Mexico, adding four states to the previous roster of 10 that it says have areas that are unsafe. The beginning of the warning said, "Millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year for study, tourism, and business, including more than 150,000 who cross the border every day.”

Mexico’s economy is based on tourism, remittances from the United States, and oil. Despite all the narco violence, Mexico’s economy is doing very, very well, thank you. In fact, it grew at 5.5% last year, the fastest rate in 10 years — a rate President Obama would give his right arm to have. And unlike most emerging market countries, Mexico doesn’t have high inflation. But if there’s enough crime against tourists, it will be a terrible blow to the economy and hurt a lot of wonderful people.

It’s a real bummer for potential visitors, too, because not only is Mexico right next to the United States, but it offers one of the biggest-bang-for-the-buck cruising, tourist and retirement living bargains in the world. If we had to guess, we’d say the same vacation would cost one-third or less in Mexico than in the Caribbean. Furthermore, except for the criminal element, Mexico is home to about the nicest group of people in the world.

The incident is not going to stop us from returning to Puerto Vallarta or Mexico, and we’d be surprised if any cruiser bails because of it. But it’s nevertheless terrible publicity that’s going to freak out a lot of people. You’re not kidding when you say it’s a shame all around.