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September 13, 2013

Blue Marble’s Niue Nightmare

Blue Marble’s dreamy cruise across the South Pacific came to an abrupt halt this week when she broke loose from a mooring and gounded on a reef.

Blue Marble
© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

From what we can gather, Norwegian marine biologist Erlend Hovland, 32, and his seven young crew have thoroughly enjoyed exploring the South Pacific this season, having the done the Pacific Puddle Jump from Panama via the Galapagos several months ago. Their luck changed this week, however, when their Fountaine-Pajot 46 cat Blue Marble broke loose from a commercial mooring off the tiny island-nation of Niue while Hovland and his mates were ashore. 

The cat was soon hard aground on a reef that skirts the shoreline. By the time the crew returned, there was no chance of motoring off under her own power or with a tow from the ship’s dinghy. Amazingly, though, Blue Marble was pulled free — despite substantial structural damage — by a commercial vessel, and was later lifted onto a concrete wharf by a huge crane. 

The problem now, however, is what to do with her. While not a total loss, she appears to need major hull repairs before she can sail on to a larger port for a more permanent fix, and there is no appropriate boatyard at Niue (which lies halfway between the Cook Islands and Vava’u, Tonga). But the big cat’s hull apparently was insured.

"Right now we do not know what will happen next," wrote Hovland on his website. "We are being taken care of by very friendly locals. We are all living in the same house for the time being. Some of us might try to hitchhike westward as crew on passing yachts."

As we learned when Blue Marble registered for the Pacific Puddle Jump rally, Hovland and crew member Andreas Melvær crossed the Pacific in 1987 when they were age 5 and 3 respectively. This year they’ve been repeating that adventure. "We call it a trip in the wake of history," Hovland explained, "and are documenting it with a media project." See happier videos here.

The crew in happier times.

Blue Marble
©2013 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Suspected Arsonist Nabbed

Sarah Kaplan of City Yachts reports that the man suspected of trying to set their Gashouse Cove fuel dock and brokerage building on fire Wednesday morning has been arrested by the SFPD. No word on motive or the identity of the suspect. We’ll try to get more info for the October issue of Latitude, but in the meantime, Cityfront businesses can breathe a little easier.

Classy Classified Deadline Sunday

© Latitude 38

If you’re looking for high-quality — and highly qualified — buyers for your boat or gear, look no farther than Latitude 38‘s Classy Classifieds. A 40-word ad is still just $40 but you’d better hurry if you want to get your ad in the October issue of the magazine. The deadline is this Sunday, September 15, at 5 p.m. Don’t be late!

Racing Round-Up and More

Kites, windsurfers, and Aussie 18s clustered together under the Golden Gate Bridge. Must be the start of the Ronstan Bridge to Bridge!

© Erik Simonson

Kiteboarding phenom and 2012 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Johnny Heineken won yesterday evening’s Ronstan Bridge to Bridge, foiling his board from the Golden Gate to the Bay Bridge. He finished in an amazing 12 minutes, taking 2 minutes off the course record. Johnny’s kiteboarding sister Erika was the first female, coming in eighth. Looming over the competition and finishing in fifth place was Tom Siebel’s MOD 70 Orion. The first Aussie 18 to finish was David McDiarmid on Yamaha, which is currently leading the Nespresso 18-ft Skiff International Regatta. "We sailed the whole race on starboard tack," said the Kiwi. "Off Alcatraz the call was for everybody else to jibe. We just kept going and got a shift." Mike Percey was the winning windsurfer.

The helicopter passed Orion, but was later disqualified for running its engine.

latitude/John A.
©2013 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

The 18-footers conclude their series today, with three races starting at noon. See the host site, for more. And check out the video below of Heineken practicing off the Alameda Naval Air Station last week.



Long Beach YC hosts the second annual Patriot Regatta tomorrow, for teams from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. The military branches are provided with the same Long Beach Sailing Foundation 37-ft Catalinas used in the Congressional Cup. The public can watch from Belmont Pier in Long Beach.

2012 Patriot Regatta winner Navy Team 3 shows its mettle during last year’s event.

© 2013 Rick Roberts

The U.S. Singlehanded Championships, hosted by Manasquan River YC in Brielle, NJ, started yesterday and run through tomorrow. Last year’s runner-up, Hanne Weaver of Gig Harbor, WA, took an early lead in the women’s Byte CII division on day one. The men are sailing in Lasers.

Deneen Demourkas of Santa Barbara is among the 26 skippers from nine countries registered for the Melges 32 Worlds September 18-22 in Porto Rotondo, Sardinia, Italy. Deneen is the reigning three-time Farr 30 champion.

Sea Scavenger Conservancy’s final America’s Cup Healthy Ocean Project Shoreline Cleanup with Kaiser Permanente will be tomorrow morning, from 9:30 a.m.  to noon, at Islais Creek Park, which is near Third Street and Pier 90 in San Francisco’s India Basin neighborhood. Details, plus simultaneous cleanup events in Oakland, Montara, and Sacramento, can be found at

Spaulding Wooden Boat Center in Sausalito is hosting an open house tomorrow from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is free, and they’ll be giving free rides on Dixie, a wooden powerboat, with a docent from the Sausalito Historical Society onboard. They’ll also be dishing up hot dogs and giving tours of the center’s traditional working boatyard, including the restoration of the historic boat Freda, youth boatbuilding in action, plus the Arques School of Traditional Boatbuilding. See

One-Designs for the AC, Dammit!

If there was a better argument for changing the Deed of Gift for the America’s Cup to specify one-design boats than the 34th America’s Cup, we don’t know what it would be.

The Kiwis show off in front of Larry Ellison’s yacht Musashi.

© Jan Pehrson

As screwed up as much of the goings on were prior to the first race of the America’s Cup Finals, the Cup itself has been almost perfect since the first gun. San Francisco has delivered in spades with great sailing conditions and scenery. Given the moderate conditions, the AC72s have provided unparalleled America’s Cup sailing excitement. The brilliant video and graphics have made what’s going on understandable to everyone. The crowds and facilities have been great. And the teams have been almost equally matched, with skippers Dean ‘The Dream’ Barker and Jimmy Spithill demonstrating tremendous skill at the helm.

And then there is the racing. There hasn’t been such great match racing in the 162 years of the America’s Cup — at least until the first few minutes of the third leg of each race. And there’s the rub. While the boats are equally matched for the exciting starts, the reaches and the screaming runs, the races are all over on the upwind leg before Alcatraz because Emirates Team New Zealand has a more nimble boat that accelerates faster out of tacks and is faster upwind in a straight line. While a few extreme geeks sitting at CADs may stand up and gleefully shout, "I told you the cat with the fatter hulls and more U-shaped bottom would be faster tacking and upwind! I told you!" everyone else just groans as the race excitement balloon rapidly deflates. We keep watching, but only to gaze in wonder at the cats as they foil on the second downwind leg.

Unpredictability of outcome is what makes for great sport. But we don’t have that in the 34th America’s Cup. Now, after seven races, everybody knows that, while the starts and first two legs will be fabulously even, each race will be clinched just after the start of the weather leg. The Kiwis are not just faster upwind, they are much faster. It’s just no fun when the race is over long before it’s over.

If organizers want to attract more female viewers, they might have sailors, such as Dean ‘The Dream’ Barker, wear sleeveless uniforms.

latitude/Doña de Mallorca
©2013 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

The Kiwis may have demonstrated a slight superiority in crew work, and Scott Easom says Dean Barker is the best natural helmsman he’s ever sailed with. But if there’s an edge in crews, it’s only slight, as Spithill and Team Oracle have seemed a little better at the starts. The bottom line is that if the two teams traded boats, we think Team Oracle would be as far in the lead as the Kiwis are at this point. It’s the design, not the sailors, who are winning the America’s Cup for New Zealand.

This is not to take anything away from the Kiwis. They’ve been incredibly well-prepared and maintain incredible focus on the water. But as any sailor will tell you, there’s nothing like a faster boat to give you confidence and keep you loose. That said, the Kiwis have done a masterful job of using tactics to leverage their upwind speed advantage.

We’ve been very impressed with Jimmy Spithill, whose stock will certainly not be diminished by this America’s Cup. As the losing skipper in all but one race, he’s always been in the hotseat in the press conferences, but has handled himself admirably. After yesterday’s two losses put the Kiwis up 6 vs OTUSA’s -1 (due to their two-point penalty), Spithill was asked how he was keeping his spirits up. He basically said that being so far down gave them the opportunity for a spectacular comeback. Nice attitude.

We’ve also been very impressed with the way both teams have conducted themselves, particularly Barker and Spithill. The two are the polar opposites of the ‘I ain’t no role model’ thugs that populate so many professional sports teams in America. On numerous occasions we’ve seen Spithill and Barker stay around after races to sign autographs and have their photos taken with people until there was nobody left. After yesterday’s two losses and a difficult press conference, we watched as an older woman rushed up to an obviously exhausted Spithill and asked to have her photo taken with him. Spithill did it, and did it with a genuine smile. The skippers and crews of both these boats are bringing great credit to the sport of sailing.

Actually, there was one off-the-water screw-up on the part of Oracle Team USA. After the two losses on Tuesday, and maybe some questionable decisions by navigator John Kostecki, ‘JK’ was replaced in practice the next day by Ben Ainslie. The creepy thing was that Ainslie was wearing Kostecki’s jersey. If this was some kind of attempt at subterfuge, it was a bungling one, because Kostecki is clean shaven while Ansilie has a beard. It made it seem as if Kostecki, one of the most talented, accomplished sailors in the world — and a great guy — had symbolically been sent to Siberia.

Team Oracle must have scrounged in the couch cushions to find the spare change to get Ben Ainslie his own jersey.

© 2013 Gilles Martin-Raget / ACEA

The most comical America’s Cup sidelight has been the actions of Jim Clark, who made over a billion dollars in Silicon Valley by helping launch Netscape and Silicon Graphics, and whose 289-ft schooner Athena is stern-tied to the America’s Cup Park. Clark’s mega sailing yacht has been flying the Kiwi ensign and a giant Kiwi supporter flag. Rumor has it that Russell Coutts, the Kiwi CEO of Oracle Team USA, had a mutual sailing friend ask Clark to take the Kiwi symbols down.

Clark would have none of it. He told the New Zealand Herald, "I’m from the U.S. and I would have otherwise been happy to see the Cup stay here. But once I heard about how the cheating stuff was being handled and no one was taking responsibility, I said, ‘Right, get me the biggest Kiwi flag you can find.’ If people ask me why I’m not supporting the home team, I tell them, ‘Because I don’t support cheaters’."

Jim Clark’s Athena is loud and proud in supporting the ‘non-cheating’ Kiwi team.

© 2013 Balazs Gardi / ACEA

This obviously hasn’t made for happy berth neighbors at America’s Cup Park, where Larry ‘Google’ Page’s 194-ft motoryacht Senses is the only thing that keeps Clark’s 289-ft Athena from being bookended by Ellison’s 288-ft motoryacht Musashi and his 184-ft sailing yacht Asahi.  

Peter Johnstone is the honcho of Gunboats, the Carolina-based company that makes blazingly fast Gunboat cruising catamarans. You may remember that Lloyd Thornburg’s Gunboat 66 Phaedo did more than 420 miles in this year’s TransPac before getting dismasted. Anyway, Johnstone got on Facebook and posted his recommendations for the future of the America’s Cup:

1) A nationality rule would be great.

2) Make the cats cost less, but try to keep the excitement and spectacle of the Cup Finals. Something like 50- to 60-ft foiling cats. Open up the foil control systems, but ditch the wings.

3) Keep up with the AC World Series as it kept us enthralled between the Cups and should continue.

4) The Red Bull Youth America’s Cup was awesome.

Johnstone is right on every single count, which makes it so surprising that he forgot the part about the America’s Cup boats needing to be one-designs.

You know where else the Kiwis are much faster than Americans? Filing tax returns. Former Latitude Racing Editor Sutter Schumacher, who now lives in New Zealand, says she just finished her taxes for both countries. Her New Zealand tax return was six pages. Her U.S. tax return was 59 pages. 

Sarah Kaplan of City Yachts reports that a man apparently jumped the fence at their Gashouse Cove docks this morning and tried to start a fire next to their office.
Because most of Latitude 38‘s small staff have worked together for two decades, we think of each other almost as family.