On a recent visit to Stinson beach for a long, leisurely stroll on the sand, my captain and I encountered what appeared to be thousands of little rubbery toy sailboats. Upon closer inspection, we were astonished to discover they were sea creatures; intricately designed jellyfish boats, each complete with a stout hull and free-standing, beautifully transparent sail. Most of them were above the tide line, high and dry, but a few hearty vessels were actually sailing in the shallow water.
We’re always fascinated by marine life, and some research came up with their name of this boat-like species: Velella velella, a cousin of the jellyfish. Commonly referred to as "by-the-wind sailors," these stalwart little craft begin their lives mid-ocean in the Pacific, and their lives’ voyages are determined at birth by the configuration of their ‘sail’, which will send them on either a port or starboard tack. The hulls stay upright due to sealed air chambers and will float in the open ocean in search of plankton and small shellfish they capture with their stinging tentacles, unless they get caught in a wind and current situation that forces hundreds of thousands of velellas to become stranded — or should we say shipwrecked — such as those found grounded on West Coast beaches from the Pacific Northwest to Southern California.
Once washed ashore, the hulls slowly disintegrate, and the sails dry up, separate from their hull, and float along the beach. Since they are in the jellyfish family, it is wise not to touch these delicate creatures, and it’s suggested that you wash carefully if they come into contact with your skin.
Every sailor hopes for an uneventful journey, safe from predators and beach landings. If Velellas can escape being driven ashore or being gulped by a sea slug or sunfish, they reproduce and spend their average life expectancy of a year, blissfully underway. If human sailors are lucky, they may encounter masses of these little blue ships in temperate seas. The average overall length of the creatures we observed was about three inches, but several were larger. Once again, the sea provided treasures when least expected.
Officials in Panama have confirmed that the body found floating in the waters off the Pacific Coast of Panama is that of well-liked young German singlehander/surfer Stefan Ries. There was no sign of foul play, so we presume he fell overboard. Mintaka, his Triton 29, has not been found. A regular contributor to Latitude 38, for a number of years Ries worked as a bartender at the Palladium on the north shore of Banderas Bay, living aboard his anchored-out 25-ft sailboat. After that boat was destroyed in a storm, he replaced her with the $5,000 engineless Triton 29 Mintaka.
In the off seasons, Ries would cruise as far south as Costa Rica in search of waves. During one report to Latitude he described having had his thigh speared — in one side and out the other — by a needlefish. Ries ‘retired’ about two years ago to live the ultra-simple life, cruising and surfing full time, mostly in Panama. His base was Santa Catalina Island (Veraguas), where he would stay for weeks at a time, mostly to surf. According to Karlien Vandecasteele, Ries’ former girlfriend, he was last heard from on May 2, at which time he was presumably headed back to Santa Catalina for more surfing. "Stefan was my love, my best friend, and my hero," writes Karlien. "I will never ever forget him, our little home Mintaka, and all the beautiful adventures we shared in Panama. He was such a special and beautiful person, and such a great sailor and surfer. I will forever have a very special place in my heart for him."
In nearly 40 years of publishing Latitude, we can never remember a shorter period of time in which so many experienced sailors have apparently been lost overboard or in curious water-related (mostly) activities. Last week there was Olympic sailor Trevor Moore, who was apparently lost overboard from a small powerboat off Florida. Carly Hill, another very experienced sailor, was lost overboard from the 33-ft catamaran Oryx in moderate weather while on a passage from Durban, South Africa, to Mozambique. And Laurent Bourgnon, the great Swiss sailor who set so many singlehanded records, including 7 days, 2 hours to cross the Atlantic, is reported long overdue from a dive trip in French Polynesia. And it wasn’t that long ago that we lost the great Florence Arthaud to that ridiculous helicopter accident in South America.
They start the Transatlantic Race on July 5, but, hey, no reason to just hang around Newport in the meantime. So Lloyd Thornburg, Brian Thompson, Miles Seddon, Sam Goodchild, Warren Fitzgerald, Sam Bason, and Pete Cumming took Thornburg’s MOD70 trimaran Phaedo3 for a quick lap around Jamestown (in Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay) on Saturday. Their circumnavigation time of 56 minutes and 36 seconds just happens to improve upon the previous Mount Gay Rum Around Jamestown Record of 00:58:31, set by the GC32 foiling catamaran Argo last October.
Phaedo3 sailed the course around the island to starboard, sailing south from the start off Fort Adams at 5:30 p.m. EDT, with an easterly breeze of 10-15 knots on the start of an ebb. This was the crew and boat’s first time sailing around Jamestown.
Skipper Thornburg said, "We had been planning to attempt the record as practice before the Transatlantic Race start, and we had been told it’s very hard to beat the record in the summer as the prevailing winds don’t give you the opportunity. But, with an easterly forecast, this was really the only day to attempt it.
"We had a smashing start, flying the center hull going approximately 30 knots," he reports, "but the wind was fluky and light on the backside and we never saw more than 15 knots of breeze. Once we got to the northern tip, the navigator said to us if we’re going to break the record we need to average 20 knots from here on in and we were going 14 at the time. I have to give credit to the guys because they really put their heads down and made it happen, but it wasn’t until we finished that we knew we broke the record."
Sailors have until October 31 to attempt to break the new outright record. If no other team in any division beats Phaedo3’s outright record time by then, the MOD70 will secure the outright record. When asked what he would do with all of the Mount Gay Rum if the record stands through the end of the year, Thornburg replied, "If the record holds, I think we’ll take the rum, share it and have a party."
Regular readers of Latitude 38 will recognize the distinctive green trimaran as the cover girl of this year’s May issue.