For well over a year now, an American flag has been flying upside-down from the rigging of the 72-ft gaff tops’l schooner Lord Jim, as she sits high and dry in a remote Brazilian boatyard at the edge of the jungle. As old salts know, in naval tradition an inverted national flag or ensign is a sign that the vessel is in distress.
The nature of Lord Jim‘s distress is unusual, however. After striking an unmarked rock and sinking five years ago, she was successfully raised and repaired. But that turned out to be the easy part of her Brazilian ordeal. A dispute with the boatyard owner forced the schooner’s longtime owners Holger Kreuzhage and Tracy Brown into a protracted courtroom battle, which they ultimately won. In defiance of a court order, the owner, who Holger characterizes as thoroughly corrupt, literally removed the marine railway so Lord Jim could not relaunch. Subsequent court proceedings, all won by Kreuzhage and Brown, have still brought no resolution.
With that as background, Holger and Tracy recognized America’s Independence Day in a unusual manner: "Our boat is still hostage, and so are we. But today we will rise above these local conditions, which were actually resolved by the justice system completely in our favor. A country where a final decision by the appellate court can be ignored by individuals who believe they are above the law only accentuates the difference in the values we treasure as Americans, and which we honor on this special day.
"Needless to say we miss our home country, our families and our far-away friends. In their honor and in the honor of our own country, we are flying our flag in its correct position, right-side-up."
The 44-ton schooner was formerly based at Sausalito, and was previously the queen of Antigua’s crewed charter fleet. As far as we know, she has circumnavigated more times than any other San Francisco-based vessel. We sincerely hope the current deadlock ends soon, freeing her to sail the world’s oceans yet again.
The 23 racers in the Singlehanded TransPac have pushed through the uncomfortable beam seas of the first third of the course and are now enjoying a more comfortable ride, if not an abundance of wind and sun. Smaller boats with solar as their sole source of energy production, such as the Moore 24s Hope for the Warriors (US101) and RushMoore sailed by Ronnie Simpson and Ruben Gabriel respectively, are suffering. Simpson’s brother Rj noted yesterday, "Today’s phone call started with Ronnie wanting to know the best way to tie a noose. He said it’s still cloudy and the batteries are dead. He is hand steering downwind in very light air, less than 5 knots. He is also without any weather information." Gabriel, on the other hand, reported to the race committee this morning that last night’s sharp turn south yielded better wind, though still no sun so he’s also hand steering — and has been for three days. "I’ve had three hours sleep in the last six days," he said.
With just 650 miles to go before crossing the finish line at idyllic Hanalei Bay on the island of Kauai, Alex Mehran on the Open 50 Truth is set to break the race’s elapsed time record of 10d, 22h, 53m set by Ray Thayer in 1996 on his Open 60 Wild Thing. "If he keeps up his pace," said Race Chair Rob Tryon, "he should make it in Sunday."
The rest of the fleet have sailed south of the rhumbline and have stayed suprisingly close together throughout the race. Many of the boats have been within VHF range — if not shouting range — of other boats, crossing within just a few miles on occasion. A glitch in the race tracker algorithms caused some confusion for the first couple days about who was leading, but with it fixed, shoreside fans can now see that Tom Watson’s Pearson Triton Darwind is leading the Plastic Classics fleet, Whitall Stokes’ Tartan Ten Slacker is leading 30 Somethings, Brian VanderZanden’s Hobie 33 TurboCamper is leading the Fast & Fun boats, and Jim Quanci’s Cal 40 Green Buffalo is at the head of the Big & Comfy class and is currently in first for overall monohull honors. Watch the tracker at the link above, or download the Yellowbrick Race Viewer app for your iToy or smartphone and buy the race for a little over $3. And be sure to read the racers’ log updates — they’re very illuminating, and often quite hilarious.
As much as we’d like to, we never take our 63-ft cat Profligate out on the Fourth of July. As far as we’re concerned, the Fourth — more specifically the evening of the Fourth — is one of the spookiest times to be on the water. For not only is it probably the busiest boating night of the year, it’s no doubt the evening on which the least experienced skippers and least used boats are most likely to be out. And because taking family and friends on one’s boat to watch fireworks is a natural, the boat operators are often distracted. And one or two are smashed.
As the Fourth of July boating tragedy in New York proved, the combination of even well-intentioned boat owner and lots of guests can result in tragedy. As most of you have surely read, a Silverton 34 motor yacht with 27 people aboard capsized and sank in mild conditions following a fireworks show near Oyster Bay, New York. In a heartbreaking consequence, three youngsters, ages 12, 11 and 8, who had been playing inside the cabin, drowned. The loss of these young, innocent lives breaks our hearts.
Following normal protocol, all the Coast Guard will currently say is that the cause of the capsize is under investigation. It will take some time before their findings are released, but we can tell you right now will be that the damn boat was overloaded. Way, way overloaded. As a previous owner of the boat told the press, she would have never taken more than eight people out at once. We’re guessing that maybe even a dozen guests would have been fine — assuming the fuel and water tanks were at least half full and at least half of the guests were not on the flybridge. But 27? Ridiculous.
Since the boat was loaded with family and friends, it wasn’t a case of a greedy charter boat operator illegally overloading a boat. It was a case of an ignorant boat owner probably trying to be nicer to more family and friends than he should have been. Well-intentioned or not, those kids are still dead.
We hadn’t really thought about it before, but it comes as something of a surprise to us that the Coast Guard doesn’t specify a maximum number of passengers for such boats — as they do for things like dinghies and commercial vessels. It seems like this is something that needs to be done.
From tragedy to farce: We were aboard Profligate in San Diego for the evening of the Fourth, but we kept her in her berth at Driscoll’s Boat Yard rather than mixing it up with all the other boats. But that didn’t prevent us from seeing one of the biggest Fourth of July screw-ups ever. Fourth of July fireworks on San Diego are a big thing, with the fireworks being set off simultaneously from four locations. Police even closed off all of Shelter Island to vehicular traffic, and probably did the same with Harbor Island. Local officials estimate that half a million people gathered to watch what was to be a 20-minute fireworks show.
Alas, the show not only started five minutes early, but was 19 minutes and 45 seconds shorter than planned. For due to some blunder on the part of the fireworks contractor, the fireworks were not only shot off prematurely, but all of them were shot off at once. It was spectacular — for the very brief time it lasted. "It reminded me of the first time I had sex with my husband after he got back from Iraq," one woman laughingly said to another. "He was premature, but he was spectacular."
We have a hard time getting excited about motor yachts, but a few docks away there is a classic long range fishing boat of about 90 feet. Now lovingly maintained as a private yacht, we’ve always admired the fact that she’s so functional and understated. Anyway, she was taken out on the evening of the Fourth, festooned with flags and bunting. There was a big group of people aboard, but surely no more than 25% of what she could have easily carried in safety. Anyway, when we woke up the next morning, we noticed that her port bow had been banged up, in what we can only assume with a Fourth of July collision with another boat. It’s just a reminder to us why you won’t be seeing us out with Profligate next Fourth of July.
And what was your Fourth like on San Francisco Bay?