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April 27, 2012

Sudden Microburst Rattles El Salvador Fleet

All hell broke loose when a microburst touched down in Bahia del Sol, El Salvador, last Saturday night.

© Zachary Lough

The tropical tranquility of El Salvador’s Bahia del Sol was dramatically interrupted Saturday when a lightning storm quickly accelerated, creating a microburst with Force 12 winds (73 to 84 knots). Ironically, there were probably more cruising boats in the area than at any other time of the year, as the annual El Salvador Rally is in full swing, with its closing ceremony slated for Sunday.

Singlehander Zachary Lough of the Catalina 30 Panache was one of the visiting sailors caught in the blow. He was having dinner with friends Aaron and Nicole aboard Bella Star, which was tied to a guest dock, when all hell broke loose: "I was perched halfway in Bella Star‘s companionway watching Aaron and Nicole in unison call out the knotmeter reading, “35 knots, 40 knots… 50 knots!” My eyes were like saucers, “67 knots!”

"By the time I turned around, the rain literally blinded me. By the time I acclimated to the wind speed and rain all I could see was black. A huge bolt of lightning struck the background less than a mile away and lit up everything for only a moment, and then faded back to complete darkness. Was Panache safe at anchor? I was in panic mode, and I could see nothing. The wind was without a doubt too strong to dinghy out — dangerous even."

In the darkness, he could see that his boat and others were dragging rapidly toward the marina. "The dock was moving like it was an earthquake, and the rain was lit up like comets, making for a dreamlike, correction, nightmare-like landscape."

The Vancouver, BC-based Vagabond 47 Sundancer broke free from its mooring and went adrift through the mooring field, then the Everett, WA-based Tayana 42 Talaria broke loose and smashed into the San Carlos, CA-based Brown Searunner 37 Hotspur, "smashing the cap rail, stanchions, and solar panels on both boats," Zachary report.

Tolerance was a loss. Her owner sold off all the gear to cruisers and the boat to a local.

© Zachary Lough

But the worst damage was played out at the docks. The sailboat Tolerance dragged violently into a concrete dock, and its fiberglass hull was stove in as was pressed into the dock’s footings by the storm. Zachary recalls the scene vividly: "Tolerance was being pressed like a grape against the pier. Hopping on deck to help (owner) Mick pull up his anchor, I could see a concrete column stretching out of the fiberglass with a huge gash in its wake. This was bad. Luckily, the gash ended literally right at the waterline."

Prior to this surreal patch of intense weather, Zachary had been lamenting in his blog that life at Bahia del Sol was a bit too laid-back even for some cruisers. But we suspect he and others will stop themselves the next time they start yearning for more excitement. (To read Zachary’s full account of the big blow, see his blog.)

Has the Coast Guard Gone Overboard?

"The Yacht Racing Association (YRA) is taking a chickenshit position on the Coast Guard’s just-announced revocation of offshore racing permits," Matt Peterson of FastBottoms Hull Diving wrote on our Facebook page. "The YRA is advocating that sailors simply bend over and take whatever the Coasties want to shove up our collective behinds because it’s in our ‘best interests’ to keep the people who rescue boaters in distress happy. I say bullshit. The Coasties aren’t out there doing the boating public a favor when they save someone’s life, they are out there doing their taxpayer-supported and government-mandated duties. And they are overstepping their bounds with this knee-jerk reaction to what is absolutely a terrible tragedy. This wasn’t an industrial accident requiring government intervention and oversight. It was something bad that happened to people that made a choice to pursue a risky pastime. The Coast Guard does not need to restrict our freedom to sail because five people unfortunately lost their lives sailing any more than the National Transportation Safety Board needs to ban air travel when a plane crashes."

While we’re certainly nowhere as vehement as Peterson in his disagreement with the Coast Guard and the YRA, it seems to us that the Coast Guard could have achieved the same goal by requiring the YRA to temporarily establish depth and/or distance limitations from the Farallones.  

As for Coast Guard Captain of the Port Cindy Stowe planning to call in US Sailing to determine if safety regulations for offshore races need to be changed, we’re of a mixed mind. We think it’s correct of her to look to sailors for expertise, but shouldn’t she have looked to local sailors, the ones who sail these waters, the ones who know them best, to decide if safety regulations for the races ought to be changed?

Watch It! You Might Have Won

Caution: This is a curious story that involves classic yachts in the Caribbean, a Northern California owner, a mediocre finish in class, the top award presented by a rock ‘n roll star, and squabbling in the crew over a watch.
For decades Ira Epstein lived in Bolinas and drove to San Francisco Financial District each weekday morning to work on the stock exchange. He left that life six years ago when he fulfilled a lifelong dream by buying the classic 50-year-old Robert Clark-designed 65-ft wood ketch Lone Fox to charter and race in the Caribbean. Ira is a much-liked and respected figure in his home base of St. Barth because owning a classic yacht is a difficult and expensive calling, and because unlike the owners of most wooden yachts, he’s on a budget and has done countless thousands of maintenance and repair hours himself.
In the six years Ira has done the Antigua Classic Regatta, he has done well, but never as well as last year, when his cumulative record of top finishes in big fleet meant that his Lone Fox was the overall winner. The Classic Regatta is like youth soccer in the sense that just about every participant gets at least a couple of prizes. Lone Fox won so many that the one of the charterers produced a shopping bag in which to carry them all away. One of them reportedly away for good: the most valuable prize, an expensive Panerai watch from the event’s sponsor.
Things didn’t start out quite as well for Ira and Lone Fox in this year’s 25th Antigua Classic Regatta. In the lighter airs of the first two races, he got a second and a third, although Lone Fox was only 38 and 40 seconds off the pace. But Lone Fox got bullets in the windier final two races, winning by margins of over three minutes and over five minutes. But thanks to an extremely rare dead heat between two other boats in class, Lone Fox finished third.
Knowing he had to get to a charter the next afternoon at 85-mile distant St. Barth, and knowing that Lone Fox had finished third in class, Ira decided to blow off the awards ceremony. He and the crew were raising the main outside English Harbor when Ira’s cell phone rang. "You’re not leaving before the awards presentation, are you?" a friend asked. When Ira responded that he was, the woman forcefully suggested that he be at the prize-giving.
All went as expected up until right before the grand prize. It was at that time that the Panerai folks introduced rock star Simon Le Bon and other members of the Brit rock band Duran Duran. You see, the classic yacht Eilean is the flagship of the niche watchmaker, and it was aboard that yacht that Duran Duran made their somewhat famous Rio music video. After playing the whole thing, Mr. Le Bon made the announcement that the winner of the grand prize in this year’s event was . . . Lone Fox!
Lone Fox bested more than 50 yachts, including the new 116-ft F Class Firefly, to take top honors in the Classic.

©2012 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

How can that be? It turns out, this year’s big prize was for cumulative elapsed time. So while Lone Fox hadn’t done well in the first two races, she was only a few seconds off the pace in class and in fleet. And when she won the last two races, she’d won big on corrected time, not only in class, but also in fleet. When it was all over, Lone Fox surprisingly had the best cumulative corrected time.

When Le Bon presented Ira with the Panerai watch, this year Ira hung onto it with a strong grip. Having lost one watch already, and having confirmed that watch was to be for the yacht’s owner and not the charterer, he wasn’t going to give it up. While the charterer/helmsman Don Ward of Antigua didn’t complain, members of his entourage did. "I got hissed at and more," remembers Ira. But he stuck to his guns, which is why he’s wearing the Panerai watch in the accompanying photo. 
Ira, watching his Panerai watch.

©2012 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

In the future, it would be nice if Panerai specified who the watch was to go to.

The other Northern California-based boat in the Antigua Classic Regatta, Matt and Pam Brooks S&S 52 Dorade, continued her international winning ways, with three firsts and a second.
How soon they forget. Prior to the first race of the Antigua Classic Regatta, some participants say there was "an older, very obese man, walking the docks with a grocery-store like plastic bag with sunscreen, water and food, and asking — in a high-pitched voice — if anyone needed crew." The young bucks on the boats, being young bucks, looked the other way and smirked among themselves. But when Carlo Falcone, owner of the 80-ft ketch Mariella saw the man, he immediately recognized him and snapped him up. For while America’s Cup legend Dennis Conner of San Diego is hardly an ideal physical specimen these days, he still knows his stuff. Indeed, Mariella went on to win all four races.
As for sailing legend Dennis Conner apparently paying his own way to the Caribbean, then humbly walking the docks in Antigua asking for a crew position, it says one thing to us — the man truly loves his sailing. Respect.
In an unprecedented move, Captain Cindy Stowe, USCG Captain of the Port for Sector San Francisco, has temporarily suspended all marine event permits for offshore races in the wake of April 14’s Full Crew Farallones Race tragedy in which five sailors perished.