As Category 3 Hurricane Matthew roars north toward Jacksonville, Florida, details of the carnage left in its wake are becoming clearer. While only one fatality has been reported so far in the US, the death toll in Haiti has risen to 271 and is expected to increase. The storm’s center is currently 40 miles offshore, but it’s hurricane-force winds extend 60 miles outward from the eye.
Having skirted the coastline of southern Florida yesterday and last night, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power, storm watchers fear that its greatest impact may still be yet to come, if and when the storm’s center makes landfall — most likely in Georgia or South Carolina. When that happens, one of the biggest fears is of extreme damage from storm surge.
Matthew punished Florida’s southeastern communities with gusts up to 83 mph, while winds of 115 mph were reported at its center.
With more recreational boats registered in Florida than almost any other state, damage to boats and marine infrastructure is expected to be massive.
After devastating Haiti on Tuesday — where reports indicate up to 80% of homes were destroyed — Matthew directed its wrath at The Bahamas. So far, however, there are no reports of serious injury or death there, although flooding and storm-force winds caused extensive damage to homes and other infrastructure.
Following a bizarre sequence of recent events, American cruiser Dean Jay Fletcher currently awaits extradition from American Samoa to Tonga, where he is accused of murdering his Canadian wife Patricia Linne Kearney.
Having set sail from Mazatlan for the South Pacific in late spring of 2015 aboard their vintage Rhodes Bounty 42 Sea Oak, the couple reportedly arrived in the Kingdom of Tonga in May of this year. On July 7, while the Canadian-flagged boat lay at anchor in Neiafu, the capital of Tonga’s Vava’u archipelago, Fletcher reported the death of his wife to local authorities — although virtually no details on the nature of her death have been made public. A few days later, however, Fletcher was taken into custody and was charged with murder. No doubt this was very big news in the multi-island nation, as Tonga has one of the lowest murder rates in the world.
Somehow Fletcher managed to escape capture, get to his boat and sail away. According to multiple news sources, once his escape was discovered, Tongan Police Search and Rescue assets chased after him. Rather than surrender, however, Fletcher fired several rounds from his flare gun and allegedly threatened to ignite the pursuing patrol boats, which caused the officers aboard to give up the chase.
Fletcher might have succeeded in his getaway attempt if he hadn’t been in need of fuel. On Tuesday morning Sea Oak pulled into Pago Pago, American Samoa — roughly 330 miles northeast of Vava’u — to fuel up, but the fuel dock was not operating on that day, as a tanker was in port. Sea Oak departed, but before she got far out to sea, authorities caught up with her and apprehended Fletcher without further incident.
It was initially reported that American Samoa has no extradition treaty with Tonga, but that was incorrect. A 1977 extradition treaty between Tonga and the US does apply to American Samoa, which, of course, is an American territory. According to South Pacific sources, once returned to Tonga, Fletcher will be charged with murder or manslaughter, plus interference with the course of justice, and two counts of escaping from custody.
Meanwhile, acquaintances of Fletcher and Kearney in Mexico are understandably shocked by this remarkable sequence of events. "They were quiet but friendly folks who kept mostly to themselves as they were busy prepping for the voyage," said a friend in Mazatlan who wished to remain anonymous. "I personally can’t imagine him killing her; they seemed to be a tight couple."
In a world overwhelmed by bad news, we’ve got a bit of good news. Warwick ‘Commodore’ Tompkins has managed to refloat and resume sailing his Mill Valley-based Wylie 38+ Flashgirl. You may remember that the boat half sank as a result of a lightning strike to the masthead a few months ago while on a mooring near Kaneohe Bay, Oahu.
The specific cause of the sinking was a hole blown in the galley sink drain. The batteries couldn’t keep the bilge pumps going forever, so she sank. Lightning caused severe damage to other parts of the boat, including the masthead and electrical system. Although the Yanmar diesel was inundated, it now seems to be running fine.
Since shortly after the sinking, Commodore has been alone on the boat on the hook putting Flashgirl back together the best he can.
"He needed to go aloft to inspect damage to the masthead," reports his wife Nancy Potter Tompkins, "so he logically waited for the cool of night. Using a tackle, he pulled himself up to the masthead. Somehow the tackle line got caught around a fender, so Commodore could only lower himself halfway down before getting stuck. At night. Alone. In the anchorage. Well, once a climber, always a climber, so he attached some line to the bosun’s chair for retrieval, then simply climbed down the mast.”
Not bad for a guy who has been sailing the oceans of the world for more than eight decades. And no, that’s not a typo.
In the very near future, Commodore should be sailing Flashgirl back to California with the help of San Francisco Bay protegés Robert Flowerman and Jonathan ‘Bird’ Livingston, and Maui’s Geoff Bourne. That’s a group of grumpy old men for you.
As Commodore is something of a sailing legend, wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and his boat means much more to him than boats do to most sailors, a Flashgirl Fund was established. It gives friends a chance to help defray the expenses for restoring the boat Commodore — and often Nancy — sailed in the far reaches of the Pacific for the better part of 10 years. Twenty percent of the goal has been reached. To learn how you can contribute, email FlashgirlFund@gmail.com.
Right now, as you read this, you may be hearing the deafening roar of those jet engines overhead. If you hear them over to the south, look to the west, because by the time you hear them they’re already halfway across the sky. We’re speaking, of course, of the US Navy’s Blue Angels fighter jet squadron, which will be joined by a host of other air show demos and performers, including, for the first time ever, France’s Breitling Jet Team.
If yours is among the hordes of boats that will be taking to the waters of San Francisco Bay this weekend, you need to know that the Coast Guard will be enforcing a restricted area on the Cityfront today from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 11:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. The GPS coordinates of the ‘Safety Air Box’ will be:
37° 49.389’N x 122° 24.354’W
37° 48.888’N x 122° 24.272’W
37° 48.612’N x 122° 26.786’W
37° 49.113’N x 122° 26.868’W
If you were planning to watch from land, be advised that the Treasure Island Development Authority strongly discourages the general public from visiting Treasure Island during Fleet Week due to the construction going on there. Roadways into parking areas will be inaccessible.
The air shows begin at noon today through Sunday, with the Blue Angels performing their maneuvers from 3 to 4 p.m. For more details, see www.fleetweeksf.org, and also check out Monday’s preview on ‘Lectronic Latitude.