September 8, 2017

In the Wake of Irma

As Hurricane Irma slowly churns her way out of the Caribbean, it’s difficult to assess the extent of the damage, and to say what’s next for the dozens of islands with economies reliant on tourism and the charter boat industry. Let’s not forget that Hurricane Jose — now rated as a Category 4 storm — is to the east of islands just ravaged by Irma. We’ll keep you up to date as Jose makes its way west.

Jared Pechan’s Leopard 46, on the left, rode out the storm in the British Virgin Islands. "Battens from the main are still fastened to the port rail, and the new fenders I bought are still hanging in place, mostly," Pechan said.

© 2017 Jared Pechan

First and foremost, we’re concerned for the people throughout the Caribbean affected by Irma. If you are interested in donating to a charity, here’s a rough breakdown of organizations by the Miami Herald. We’re pleased to hear reports that there have been relatively few casualties from Irma, though the exact extent of fatalities is not yet clear (and official death tolls have allegedly been underreported after other major storms, according to some witnesses).

But the destruction to homes and infrastructure appears to be unprecedented. "On St. Martin, an official said 95 percent of the island was destroyed," the New York Times reported. Almost exactly 22 years ago, Hurricane Luis made landfall in St. Martin, an island split into French and Dutch territory, with the Dutch half called ‘St. Maarten’.

On September 5, 1995, Luis hovered over St. Martin with hurricane force winds for about 20 hours (with tropical force winds lingering for another 18 hours), according to Jack Bush, who owned Sun Yacht Charters at the time — by contrast, Irma appears to have moved quickly, but had much stronger winds.

During Luis, out of some 1600 boats in Simpson Bay Lagoon (what Bush called one of the best hurricane holes in the Caribbean), almost 1300 were destroyed. "It was the single biggest loss of boats in a single location in history," Bush said. The exact toll on St. Martin’s charter fleet is not yet known, but it’s clear there was massive destruction that will take years to recover from; Bush said it took about three years for the fleet to recover after Luis.

We received an email from Jared Pechan from Pacific Grove, who said he and his family bought a boat in the British Virgin Islands this year. "It went through Irma, and it will probably go through Jose this coming weekend," Pechan wrote. "We escaped from Beef Island on one of the last flights, our boat secured on the B dock at Nanny Cay Marina.

"Our boat!" wrote Jared Pecan. "Just about where we left her. The dock on the starboard side is still attached. The boat on that side split cleats with me. The skipper from the charter boat on our port side wouldn’t split cleats. We probably ripped those cleats off the dock. Can’t see it but we are still attached to the chain/mooring in the middle of the channel."

© 2017 Jared Pechan

"Our Leopard 46 is still secured to the hurricane moorings in the center of the channel and the starboard dock. The captain of the vessel to my port side kept removing my lines from the cleats on her side (her boat is not seen in these photos, location unknown). If the piers holding the floating docks had been taller, I believe our boat would be relatively unscathed, less the mast and bimini over the helm. We were confident in the Leopard design before and if the insurance company totals the boat, we will be looking for another, maybe farther away from hurricanes though."

We also spoke to Astrid Deeth in Antigua, owner of The Admiral’s Inn in English Harbor, who said that "the good news is, nothing bad happened here. The Nelson’s hurricane hole held up very well. The Slipway was full of boats and they all survived just fine. Part of that is just luck. English Harbor did not face a direct hit. The boats tied up in the mangroves held up fine, though some out in the Bay may have some damage."

And we received an account from Alex (last name unavailable) via the Grenada Cruisers Information Facebook page. Alex had apparently taken refuge in a hotel on St. Martin, while his boat, Nikimat, rode out the storm at a nearby marina. 

"The wind has slowed down to acceptable level. A hotel employee came and tried without success to unstick the balcony drain, so we used buckets to throw the water out. Looking at the broken window, they told me the glass is rated at 175 mph for one hour and there was wind up to 200 mph — would be curious to know how fast the wind was.

We believe these photos were taken in Road Town, Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands.  

© 2017 Caribbean Buzz

"The street looks like a war zone. Trucks flew over and landed on cars, branches everywhere. Trying to see Nikimat, but I don’t. When I moved into the suite, I could see the two antennas on the main mast. Still too much wind to go.

"After three hours of removing water from the bathroom, I was tired and the wind was down enough to walk in the street, I walked to the marina. It looked like the apocalypse. All the boats were destroyed. Nikimat was sunk as well. As I walked closer, I saw the mizzen boom above water, the main boom was under water.
Even if I was expecting my boat to sink, it was very emotional. I have owned Nikimat for five years, and she was my beloved home.

"I walked to my slip — some of the cleats were ripped off the dock. I pulled the dock lines on the dock cleat that held, and found the boat cleats at the end of the dock. Nothing can resist a Category 5 hurricane.

"My neighbor’s Horizon 70 had also sunk. A catamaran went flying and landed on the roof of some apartments. My neighbor’s trimaran flipped over. All monohulls are sunk. I walked to the other IGY Marina (where they keep the superyachts), and it was the same. Total disaster. Catamarans had flipped over or flew away, several yachts cut in half. From a distance I could see Port de Plaisance and it was the same, and the same for the rest of the marinas." 

Late last night, there was also an earthquake in Mexico in the state of Chiapas. At least 32 people were killed, and there was extensive damage in southern Mexico, according to the New York Times

The quake generated what appears to be a relatively small tsunami. We received this report from Pat Farrell:

"I am in the Chiapas Marina . . . all the ‘boats folks’ are fine, but the docks are a mess . . . all floated over the pilings. The water was up in the parking lot. Damage likely to take months to repair. Even the travelift had water above the engine."

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated since it was published.     

Smoke on the Water

While natural disasters elsewhere have garnered the headlines, the western United States has not slid into September unscathed. Wildfires too numerous to list, some massive and catastrophic in scope, dot the West Coast from border to border. Over Labor Day Weekend, dense smoke from those distant fires smothered the Bay Area. It was under that blanket of hot, still, smoky air that the Windjammers and Jazz Cup destination races kicked off the new month.

Not only was the air temperature strangely hot, the water in the middle of San Francisco Bay felt unusually warm.

©2017Latitude 38 Media, LLC

During a long postponement, the crews of many Jazz Cup starters, milling about the Central Bay north of Treasure Island, sought relief from the heat, which built to record-high triple digits.

For reboarding boats, crews deployed emergency ladders. A certain amount of athleticism was required to use them.

©Latitude 38 Media, LLC

In the end, neither the Windjammers from San Francisco to Santa Cruz on Friday nor the Jazz Cup from the Central Bay to Benicia on Saturday had any finishers. Although a westerly did eventually fill in for the Jazz Cup starters, it petered out short of San Pablo Bay. We’ll have more in Racing Sheet in the October issue of Latitude 38.

Abba-Zaba’s crew had an easier time of it — a better angle — when they moved the ladder around to the transom. Note that their engine is not running.

©Latitude 38 Media, LLC

The website claims that San Francisco water temperature is 57°F. "This water temperature is too cold for water sports. Please wear a wetsuit if you like to go into the water." According to NOAA, the water temperature has crept up into the low 60s.

Sailor-swimmers on boats with open transoms and low freeboard, such as this Melges 20, had an easier time of it. Note that these boats are sailing, not anchored. Drivers had just enough breeze to keep control of the helm.

©2017Latitude 38 Media, LLC


Anyone Passing Through?

Did you wake up this morning, make coffee on your gimbal stove, and poke your head through the companionway, into your cockpit and onto Richardson Bay? Are you from Oregon, Washington, British Columbia or even Alaska, and making a pit stop in the beautiful waters of Sausalito, or other Bay Area haunts? Are you waiting for the tropical storm season to settle down before making your way to lower, warmer, drier, colder-beer latitudes?

To those astute devotees of ‘Lectronic, yes, we’ve run this photo before. But if the view ain’t broke, why fix it? And if this happens to be your view as you prepare to go south, please contact us!

© 2017 Lee Panza

If this description sounds like you — or someone you know — then you just might be a cruiser, and we want to talk to you. We’re trying to find sailors just passin’ through the Bay Area on their way to Mexico (some of you might even be staging for the Baja Ha-Ha).

So please, to all southbound sailors, friends of southbound sailors, and those envious (or even bitterly jealous) of southbound sailors, please contact us.  


Latitude Sailing Movie Club: ‘Captain Ron’

Because the news is so dark right now, we thought some healthy escapism was in order. We’d like to thank everyone who emailed or Facebooked your comments for the Latitude Sailing Movie Club’s inaugural film, Captain Ron. The early-’90s family comedy/adventure was more of an inspiration to many of you than we would have imagined.

We also had some fantastic suggestions to fill out our list of sailing movies, including: Moana, The Four SeasonsCaptains Courageous, Wake of the Red Witch, Moby Dick, The Sea Wolf, and Cast Away (yes, Cast Away, which isn’t what we’d consider to be a typical ‘sailing movie’, but reader Lee Johnson made a compelling case).

Please feel free to write in and add to the list at any time. We will introduce our next movie at the end of this post (and include an email link). But first, your comments about the (dare we say . . . yes, we dare) iconic Captain Ron:

"I guess I’ll go with a . . . Margarita!" (Kurt Russell as Captain Ron Rico in the 1992 sailing movie classic, Captain Ron.)

© 2017 Touchstone Pictures

"An old saying teaches us that the hardest thing to do is untie the dock lines," wrote Bob Johnson. "It means that we will leave the safety of the harbor for the adventure that awaits every sailor when the sails are raised. Captain Ron shows us in extended detail why this is true. Things go wrong. The unexpected arrives. There are many challenges. And then we get to feel the exhilaration that comes from when the wheels kick, the wind sings and the white sails shake. It really is one of the finest movies about sailing."

Wayne Cederquist wrote: "Not bad for a movie from 25 years ago. I had always been a little interested in sailing, but that movie made it look so cool and fun that it moved me to learn to sail, own a boat (now on my third) and go on several charter trips with friends and family that I captained in the Caribbean. Most definitely a formative motion picture for me!"

Don Fox thought Captain Ron was robbed of an Academy Award. "Kurt Russell should have got an Oscar for that movie and a sequel."

T. Michael Leonard said, "We were cruising on a Flicka in Mexico when Captain Ron hit the theaters. It was the end of the cruise and we were back in the states to get the trailer to bring the boat home. The boat Serendipity was in Mazatlan (much of our adventure was chronicled in the pages of Latitude — including the 700-mile trailer home — via the Changes section.)

"We went to the theater to see the movie when we got home [to Tucson, Arizona]. I don’t remember the exact scenes we laughed so hard at, but the ‘regular’ people at the movie just didn’t see the humor. We started to get nasty looks from the folks in the seats around us because we were laughing so much. Keep in mind Tucson doesn’t have many cruising sailors. I still enjoy the movie, especially the end when they turn around and head for the great unknown rather than go back to Chicago."

Michael Moen said that Captain Ron was on his "short list of best sailing movies, not only because it showed an attainable boat, but it also showcased the things that can go wrong, such as boats needing maintenance and the concept of ‘this is an adventure’ that we all know and occasionally love."


We’re sticking with the early ’90s, and a real meat and potatoes type of sailing movie. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you: Wind. Please watch, enjoy, and discuss.


A satellite image of Hurricane Irma spinning violently in the Caribbean.  © 2017 NOAA Hurricane Irma gathered steam in the Atlantic before finally making landfall in the Eastern Caribbean early today, threatening thousands of lives and homes, as well as infrastructure, and one of the largest concentrations of sailboats in one of the premier cruising destinations in the world.
As flocks of cruisers prepare to head south this fall, their nav stations will be packed with more state-of-the-art electronics than ever before.