Skip to content
October 15, 2012

Happy Birthday Mirene

Former schooner Mirene celebrated her centennial on Friday with a ‘family’ birthday party.

© John Skoriak

Few boats ever make it to their 100th birthday, and fewer still in as good a condition as the former Alaska cannery schooner turned tugboat/houseboat Mirene. But then few boats have the dedicated attention and care of owners such as Sausalito’s Stewart Brand and Ryan Phelan

Mirene was built in 1912 at the Kruse and Banks Shipyard in Coos Bay Oregon. She is 64 feet, planked with fir, and was fitted with a gasoline engine in addition to her schooner rig. She was commissioned by Seattle businessman Frank C. Barnes to work carrying passengers and supplies from Seattle to his Alaska canneries. She later ended up on the Oregon and Washington Coasts carrying cargo and passengers from river to river. As was typical of boats of that era, she encountered storms, groundings, and even some close calls with fires.

Mirene started out her life as a cannery schooner but was later converted to a tugboat.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

She was later converted to a diesel tug and hauled logs on the Columbia and Willamete Rivers, and eventually became the founding vessel of the Mirene Company, which ran tugs out of Portland. After that she worked at sea as a fish boat.

In the mid ’70s, an old and tired Mirene was sailed down the coast to Sausalito, where she was left to her fate. Some hardware and items were stripped for salvage and she became a derelict houseboat in what was known as the Dredgetown Community. 

In ’82 Brand and Phelan bought the hulk for $8,000. Stewart is well known in Sausalito and even around the world as the creator of the Whole Earth Catalog, and The Well — one of the first online forums — and is known as a tech visionary. Ryan is a social entrepreneur who has started several health-related companies. The couple were also avid sailors and an integral part of Sausalito’s waterfront community.

Stewart Brand and Ryan Phelan rescued Mirene and have spared no expense to keep her in bristol condition.

© John Skoriak

Stewart and Ryan soon gathered all the abundant talent and skills available on the Sausalito waterfront to transform Mirene from a rotting hulk to a comfortable home, as well as a navigable and operable vessel. After 30 years and gallons of paint, varnish, caulking, wood replacement, and even a new engine, Mirene now shines, looking every bit as good, and possibly even better than when she was launched in 1912. 

To celebrate, Ryan and Stewart threw Mirene a birthday party on Friday. And if you’re going to have a birthday party, naturally you invite the ‘family’— in this case extended family of builders Kruse and Banks and owner Frank C. Barnes. Over 20 family members attended, some from as far as Colorado and Minnesota. Guest of honor was Mirene Daigle, great-granddaughter of Frank Barnes, who celebrated her 89th birthday on Friday.

Partygoers were treated to a birthday cruise on Mirene. Despite heavy overcast and threat of rain, spirits on board could not be dampened. The families presented Ryan and Stewart with a beautiful album of old photos from Mirene’s construction and days as a cannery supply schooner. It may have been a damp and chilly day, but Mirene didn’t seem to mind, after all, the whole family was there to wish her happy birthday.

Outrages Against Sensibilities

We haven’t given this a whole lot of thought, but it seems to us that the leading causes of misery in this world might be corruption and a lack of shame. 

As Exhibit A, we give you Francesco Schettino, the captain of the Costa Concordia cruise ship, which nine months ago capsized off the Italian island of Giglio with the loss of 32 lives. You might remember that Schettino had authorized a ‘drive by’ of the island so crew could wave to family members, was dining with a blonde at the time of the accident, was among the first to leave the ship, and despite repeated orders from the Italian Coast Guard to return to his ship to take charge — "Get back on board, for fuck’s sake!" screamed Coast Guard officer Gregorio De Falco — he stayed on the beach.

As hard as it is to believe, Schettino is suing the cruise ship company for back pay, and to get his job back. If the irresponsible Schettino had any self-respect for himself or his position, we think he would have gone down with his ship. How did he get to be captain in the first place? Family connections, not merit. In other words, classic corruption.

Lawyers will argue that Schettino has the right to press his case. Right, and by arguing his non-case, promotes the culture of people thinking that nobody is ever responsible for anything. Thanks for nothing! If we’re not mistaken, the San Francisco Bay pilot who was making like $400,000 a year, and who was aboard when the Costco Busan hit the base of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, is contemplating suing to get his license back. 

Speaking of corruption and a lack of shame, did you see the San Francisco Chronicle report that James Kwon, a high-ranking Port of Oakland official, spent $4,500 in public funds for a party at a Houston strip club. If you’re paying rent to the Port of Oakland through your berth, how do you feel about that? Do you think it’s just the tip of the iceberg? And why is it that it’s taken four years for the scandal to come out? 

If Kwon had any sense of shame, we think he would have resigned by now. But even if he is forced to resign, we predict he’ll get some massive legal settlement, and in a few months will quietly be appointed to some other higher-paying position at the public trough.

We might be a little more hard core than most, but we support the erecting — and frequent use — of gallows in front of every city hall in the country. When it comes to public servants — ha-ha, ha-ha, ha-ha, who coined that term? — we believe in ‘guilty until proven innocent’, not ‘innocent until proven guilty’. If that’s too big a burden for someone, they don’t belong in public service. Greater shame, less corruption, and fewer lawyers — we think it would result in the sudden balancing of government budgets and a higher quality of life. But that’s just us.

Planning Meetings and Sail Seminars

Current tenants of Pete’s Harbor are fighting back against a developer’s plan to evict them.

Pete’s Harbor
© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Tenants of iconic Pete’s Harbor in Redwood City are hopping mad about plans to turn the property around the affordable liveaboard marina into a 411-unit housing complex and their imminent eviction from the premises. Pete Uccelli built the 21-acre harbor in ’58, and it has since become a quirky haven for lower-income liveaboards and boaters. But if the project moves forward, all current tenants will lose their slips as the marina will become exclusive to apartment tenants. Current tenants hope to have a big showing of support at the Redwood City Planning Commission meeting tomorrow night at 7 p.m. at City Hall. You can see their petition to halt the project at this link

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

If you’re a fan of Kame Richards’ talks — and who isn’t? — you’ll want to make room on your calendar to attend his ‘Sail Design in 3D’ presentation at Corinthian YC Wednesday night. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the talk starts at 7. The event is free but an RSVP is requested either online or by phone at (415) 435-4771.

Pineapple Sails owner Kame Richards will share how he uses sail design software in in creating his high-quality sails.

Pineapple Sails
© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

And in case you missed it, today is Global Handwashing Day. The World Health Organization hopes to spread the word that washing with soap (they stress the "with soap" part) helps prevent such fun illnesses as respiratory infections and diarrhea, which we all know can really put a damper on a fun day of sailing. So wash those hands . . . at least for today!

Time and Weather

While lying in our bunk this morning, using our iPad to check Hurricane Paul‘s path toward Baja, we were reminded how dramatically cruising has changed in the last 30 years. Our first race/cruise to Mexico was the early November Long Beach to Cabo and La Paz Race of ’81, which we did on our Freya 39. Back then we had no idea, in so many ways, of what was going on.

For example, once we started, we got no more weather information — which, in any event, was so primitive at the time — until we passed Cabo six days later. Even if we had been sailing into a northbound hurricane, there would have been no way to alert us because, as we recall, SSB radios weren’t required. As such, we were unable to talk to anyone not on our boat until we passed Cabo.

When it came to navigation, we dead reckoned the entire way. The then-new SatNav, which gave a position every couple of hours, was too dear. And GPS was just a dream in the Department of Defense’s eye. Sure, we had a sextant, but the only guy who knew how to do sights had a new girlfriend aboard, so he was preoccupied with a more earthly heavenly body. We couldn’t afford radar, and AIS didn’t exist.

All in all, racing to Mexico in those days was a much more raw and adventurous experience. In some ways we miss it. But in other ways — particularly when speaking as the Grand Poobah of the Ha-Ha — we don’t miss those ‘ignorance is bliss’ days at all. Thanks to incredibly accurate weather forecasting, particularly when it comes to watching for the potential development of tropical storms, we now have a lot of advance warning of problems — tropical storms don’t just form out of nothing — and a decent idea of what’s actually going on.

If you cruised/raced south before the ’80s, the first hint you had of an approaching hurricane was huge, long period swells from the south. All you knew is that there was something big out there somewhere. Nowadays, we get massive amounts of weather information. Before and during each day of the Ha-Ha, which starts in two weeks, we’ll be in contact with Commander’s Weather, and other sources, not only to see if there are any late season tropical storms forming down by Guatemala, but also if the conditions down there are even favorable for the formation of tropical storms. And while it’s not possible to guarantee the exact path of tropical storms, nowadays you can get a decent idea of where they are going, how long it’s going to be before they get there, and when and where they are going to fizzle. The net result is that there would normally be about a week between the time the potential of a storm was detected, and the unlikely possibility that a such a storm would develop and reach lower Baja in early November. That means if some cruiser was really freaked out, they could be back in their berth in Marina del Rey before anything hit Turtle Bay.

If you’re a first time Ha-Ha participant and/or southbound cruiser, you may look at today’s various weather forecasts and be concerned about what Paul might portend for the Ha-Ha. After all, Paul is headed toward and along the Pacific Coast of Baja, and is likely to bring pretty strong winds as far north as Bahia Santa Maria and even Turtle Bay. Even if you’re not concerned, we are, because we take tropical storms and hurricanes very seriously. After all, more than most people, we’ve seen firsthand the tremendous damage they can do.

Hurricane Paul’s projected track. Note the yellow line indicates a tropical storm watch, while the blue line shows a tropical storm warning.


At this point, we’re not particularly concerned, because mid-October hurricanes are as common as dirt off Mexico. And as the days get shorter and the temperatures drop along Baja, so do the chances of tropical storms. We’ve noticed, for example, that the heat has definitely broken in the Sea of Cortez. In places such as Puerto Escondido, San Carlos, and La Paz, the nighttime lows are down to 70 degrees and even lower. The locals are probably putting on their winter coats and ski mittens. And, after the rains of the next few days, are going to be dazzled at how clean their boats are and how green the desert has become.

The one thing that concerns us a little more than normal is that the water as far north as Turtle Bay is a little bit warmer than normal, and warm water is the fuel for tropical storms. It means that the fishing has been spectacular along the coast of Baja, but it also means we’re going to pay even closer attention to the possibility of tropical storms.

While history is no guarantee of the future when it comes to the stock market and weather, we can report our research has shown that no tropical storm or hurricane has ever crossed the Ha-Ha route during the Ha-Ha dates. And while it is true that hurricane season technically doesn’t end until the end of November, the few November hurricanes there have been in Mexico during that month have all been far to the south. And southern Mexico, as any drug smuggler can tell you, is a long, long way from northern Mexico. Once late season storms get to the latitude of Puerto Vallarta, they pretty much hit a wall. But there’s always a first time for everything, so we’ll be monitoring the situation via Commander’s Weather and other weather resources — and being glad that it’s not still 1980.

We’re not worried that Tropical Storm Rafael caused any damage to ‘ti Profligate or La Gamelle but we’re looking forward to hurricane season being over just the same.


Meanwhile, over in the Atlantic/Caribbean, it looks as though Tropical Storm and near-hurricane Rafael travelled north between the British Virgins to the west and St. Martin, St. Kitts, and St. Barth to the east, leaving lots of rain and perhaps flooding, but not much wind damage. For us personally, that means Rafael travelled between our Leopard 45 ‘ti Profligate at the BVI Yacht Charters base in Tortola and our beloved Olson 30 La Gamelle sitting in a tire-cushioned hole in the ground in St. Kitts. While our boats both got a great washing, we’ll be glad when hurricane season is over.