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September 15, 2017

Small Miracles Through Irma

We received news that the the Wanderer’s Olson 30 La Gamelle survived Hurricane Irma. The following is an excerpt from his Facebook feed: 

Given the force with which Irma hit St. Barth, the survival of La Gamelle is a miracle. I don’t believe more than a handful of sailboats — if that many — survived on the little island. Early photos showed one boat up on the quay next to the Capitainerie, that boats were sunk all around the harbor, and that the detached keel of one medium-sized boat was in the street behind Baz Bar, and that’s all on the more protected side of the island.

The survival of La Gamelle is a miracle assisted by my ‘partner’, Axel Jouany, who had her on a trailer between two hardware stores in the industrial part of the island near the yacht club. I’m so glad that La Gamelle survived because to me she represents the essence of sailing. One main, one jib, no engine, and no electronics. So you, the boat, and the ocean become one in a way that larger and more complicated boats cannot.

"The great La Gamelle has apparently survived Irma in St. Barth," wrote the Wanderer on his Facebook page.

©2017Latitude 38 Media, LLC

The survival of La Gamelle proves once again that life just isn’t fair, and shows you how much luck plays in hurricane survival. For years I used to keep La Gamelle at the St. Martin Shipyard next to the airport in the off season. St. Martin was ‘Hiroshima-ed’ by Irma, as was the shipyard. Had La Gamelle been there, she would have been destroyed.

And for nine years I had ‘ti Profligate — the 45-ft Leopard catamaran I live on for three months a year in St. Barth — in a yacht management program in the British Virgin Islands. When hurricanes came, they kept her at Paraquita Bay, Tortola. Most of you have seen the dramatic photos of the pileup of boats there, where several hundred million dollars worth of boats were badly damaged or destroyed.

Now I keep ‘ti Profligate in Antigua in the off season, hauled out at North Sound Marina. This is only about 30 miles from Barbuda, which was obliterated by winds sometimes exceeding 200 mph. Antigua had about an hour of 80-knot winds, which quickly died down to about 60 knots. A lot of breeze, but virtually no boats at this big yachting center were damaged.

Having had two boats make it through Irma — where both would have been destroyed four years ago — I’m experiencing more than a little ‘survivor’s guilt’. I know that so many people lost not just their boats, but their boat/homes, which in many cases were their biggest financial asset. Not just in St. Martin and the British Virgins, but also at Anguilla, the US Virgins, many other islands, and much of Florida.

There are countless boat owner heartbreak stories. The one that bummed us out the most was the case of Rob and Dolores Blackwood of San Diego. He’s a hard-working rigger, delivery skipper and jack of all maritime trades. Dolores, originally from Mazatlan, runs a boat cleaning service. 

Dolores and Rob Blackwood of San Diego had a miracle come their way. 

©Latitude 38 Media, LLC

After years in California and Mexico, the couple came to the Caribbean, and stumbled across a CT-54 in need of a lot of work for not much money. They made a ridiculous offer on the CT — Xanadu — and it was accepted. As soon as Rob finished a delivery, he was going to rush down to Xanadu and start to work on ‘Dolores’ Floating Mansion’. And as soon as he could get around to it, Rob was going to buy insurance for the boat. But then Irma came.

With word coming out from the British Virgins very slowly, hope for Xanadu was almost nonexistent. After all, billionaire Richard Branson’s Necker Island mansion was destroyed. The Bitter End YC was leveled. The Saba Rock Resort and restaurant were complete shambles. Nanny Cay was destroyed. Understandably, Rob and Dolores resigned themselves to the fact that Xanadu was history. It was heartbreaking.

But there was a miracle!

Last night we spoke with Rob, who said their broker in Virgin Gorda told him that of 500 boats hauled at the Virgin Gorda Boatyard in Spanishtown, 497 went down and were badly damaged or destroyed. One of the three that still stood was their Xanadu! It may be many months before they are able to get her to the water, given all the destroyed infrastructure (such as the boat yard office no longer existing), but  they still have their dream boat in one piece. And she’ll have a new name — Still Standing.

Hurricanes in the Caribbean are a fact of life — even more so than strong earthquakes are in California — and if you own a boat there, don’t fool yourself: you are running a risk. But for years now, the hazard hasn’t been that great.

I recently saw insurance company data that said the chances of a boat’s getting hit by a hurricane in the Lesser Antilles was under 2% a year — those are pretty good odds, which is why it wasn’t hard to get insurance for boats. But that was before Irma. It remains to be seen if anybody will offer boat insurance for the Caribbean hurricane season in the future, and what the rates will be like in Florida.

Putting hurricanes in the Caribbean in context, Irma is likely the most destructive storm to marine interests in history. Hugo and Luis were monsters that destroyed an incredible number of boats, but as the dust settles, Irma appears to have caused far more destruction, as well as more marine and visitor infrastructure — and that’s just in the Caribbean.

The fate of the winter charter season in the Caribbean is unclear. While boats in charter fleets will likely be moved up from Antigua and farther south, we’re not sure there will be any infrastructure in cruising destinations. It’s possible that self-sufficient private boats could cruise the British Virgins like it was 40 years ago, which would be interesting.

As for major regattas, the folks in St. Martin have announced they are planning on holding the 38th Heineken Regatta — a real biggie — the first week in March, just as always. Planning to. Given the near-total destruction of the island, it remains to be seen how realistic that is. We’ve heard nothing about the BVI Spring Regatta, but can’t imagine it happening. On the other hand, we don’t see any reason why there wouldn’t be another Caribbean 600, one of the great middle distance races of the world, as it starts and ends in Antigua, an island that didn’t really suffer any damage.

Our heart goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one, a home, a boat, a business or anything else. It’s not much consolation, but the future has to look a little bit brighter in the sense it can’t get much worse. Bless all of you.

Breeze on at Rolex Big Boat Series

Yesterday’s second race at Rolex Big Boat Series was a wet and windy one, as the J/105 Moonshine demonstrates. The top four boats in the 24-boat J/105 class are divided by only one point!


"The first race was fine, but the second race was looooong," said a J/105 crewmember about the first day of racing yesterday at Rolex Big Boat Series. Other crew comments last night included: "It was gnarly out there," "I’m looking forward to tomorrow being less windy," "I’m already beat up," and "My hands got so cold."

The neon-clad crew of the Santa Cruz-based SC52 Elyxir were easy to spot at last evening’s Rolex Party. Said Matt (left): "For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to take a sandwich on deck. As soon as I did, it went flying all over."

©Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Carnage ensued in the gusty conditions during Race 2. Reported mishaps include the J/111 Skeleton Key losing a crew overboard and having to go back around to retrieve him; they were able to finish the race. Another J/111, Swift Ness, dropped out with a broken rudder. "They’re done for the series," opined a competitor. Worst of all, Peter Stoneberg’s Extreme 40 Shadow X dismasted near the Golden Gate Bridge, apparently in the same location that sistership SmartRecruiters lost her rig near the start of the Ronstan Bridge to Bridge on August 31.

Apparently a shroud parted, leading to the gravity storm on Shadow X.

© Chris Ray

After a windy first day on San Francisco Bay, Day 2, Friday, has begun with a shoreside postponement. When navigator extraordinaire Stan Honey gave the racers a weather briefing yesterday, he indicated that Thursday would see the highest wind speeds, into the low 20s, and that the direction would have more south in it than usual, the result of an upper-level trough that passed through earlier in the week. He prognosticated that a more traditional WSW breeze building to 15-20 knots would fill in today.

This is Sy Kleinman’s Schumacher 54 Swiftsure II’s 36th consecutive Big Boat Series. The crew sailed their hearts out yesterday — the team’s 96-year-old owner passed away earlier in the week, and it was his wish that they should go ahead and race. They lead ORR A.

Some of the Swiftsure crew at St. Francis Yacht Club last night. Prior to Sunday’s race, Swiftsure will stand off the A Buoy, and flowers will be strewn to honor Sy Kleinman and other sailors who passed away during the year.

©Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Two races are scheduled for today and tomorrow; a single Bay tour race is planned to wrap up the sailing on Sunday. We’ll have another report in ‘Lectronic Latitude on Monday, then a complete report in the October issue of Latitude 38. For standings and much more, see www.rolexbigboat.series.

Six Farr 40s start Race 2 in tight formation. Mick Shlens’ SoCal-based Blade 2 leads their class.

© 2017

To see more photos from yesterday’s sailing and socializing, see our Facebook page at

Coastal Cleanup Day

California’s largest annual volunteer event, California Coastal Cleanup, takes place on the third Saturday of each September, along more than 2,000 miles of coastal and inland waterfront. This year’s Cleanup Day will be tomorrow, Saturday the 16th, from 9 a.m. until noon. Check the map to find a cleanup location near you, along with all the information you’ll need to volunteer.

Cleanup sites abound around San Francisco Bay.

© California Coastal Commission

This event isn’t limited to the Pacific coastline. Cleanups take place all over California – from coastal areas to Lake Tahoe and from San Diego up to Del Norte County. For information on Delta Water Cleanup, click here.

Last year, more than 53,000 volunteers removed nearly 640,000 pounds of trash and recyclables from California’s shores. Our state’s event is part of the International Coastal Cleanup, organized by the Ocean Conservancy.

Baja Ha-Ha Deadline Extended

It’s less than two months to the big Baja Ha-Ha Beach Party at Turtle Bay. If you like making new cruising friends, you won’t want to miss it. And there is still time to sign up. 

© 2017 Kurt Roll

"I’ve been so busy working on my boat that I forgot September 15 was the deadline for signing up for this year’s Ha-Ha," a caller said yesterday, and wondered if the deadline could be extended.

The Grand Poobah is here not only for the 146 folks who have already paid up for the Ha-Ha, but for those who haven’t gotten around to it. So he’s moved the deadline back to September 30.

But even that’s a soft deadline, just for those who want to be in the Ha-Ha bio book and get their boat name on the official Ha-Ha T-shirt. The hard-hard deadline for signing up is at the Ha-Ha Halloween Costume Kick-Off Party at the West Marine Superstore in San Diego on October 29. That’s how much the Poobah loves you.

Ha-Ha Communications
As all Ha-Ha entrants know, this year’s event requires some method of long distance two-way communication. This means either the traditional SSB, or something like the Garmin InReach, the Iridium Go! or similar. Instructions on how non-SSB reporting will be done shall be emailed to each entrant by October 15.

Warning! You cannot buy something like an InReach the day before the start of the Ha-Ha and expect to use it immediately. You’ll need to sign up on the Internet, and depending on your tech skills, may need a 12 year old to explain how to use it. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll love it. Maybe not as much as if you had an SSB and could be listening to daily nets as sea, but you’ll love it a lot.

Emergency Diesel Engine Repairs
A new feature of this year’s Ha-Ha will be a seminar/workshop on how to make diesel engine repairs in an emergency. It will be given by Jim Drake, who up until retiring this month was a Yanmar dealer in South San Francisco who had been responsible for keeping all of Oracle’s powerboats going during the 34th America’s Cup. We’re working on the details, but expect to have the seminar at Driscoll Boat Works on Shelter Island in San Diego on either the Saturday or Sunday — the 21st or 22nd — before the start of the Ha-Ha.

Jim did the very first Ha-Ha on the Wanderer’s Ocean 71 Big O, then continued on with the boat to Panama, the Caribbean, and the Med all the way to Turkey, then back to the States. He also did Profligate’s first Ha-Ha and last year’s Ha-Ha on his own boat, and will be doing this year’s Ha-Ha on his boat with his wife Jeanette. As soon as we know the exact time and location of the seminar, we’ll let you know.

Who is doing the Ha-Ha?
Having already written about half of the Ha-Ha entry bios, the Grand Poobah has a pretty good idea of who will be sailing south this year. When it comes to guys, there are lots of IT folks, engineers, contractors, business owners and administrators. When it comes to the women, there are nurses, nurses, and more nurses. But if you’re a woman, you do not need to be a nurse to do the Ha-Ha.

As you might expect, entries are coming from the West Coast of the United States and Canada, but also a few from the Midwest and East Coast. The most surprising are an entry from Switzerland and another from Germany. For a number of Ha-Ha entries, the rally to Cabo will be their first long sail. But many others are vets of more than one Ha-Ha, and have a tremendous amount of international offshore experience, if not a circumnavigation, to their credit.

The 25th Annual Ha-Ha Will Be Next Year
The Poobah has already given the honorary #1 slot to John and Debbie Rogers of the San Diego-based Deerfoot 62 Moonshadow, because they’ll be coming the greatest distance. Their email will explain: "Thinking about The Wanderer, de Mallorca and other friends doing the Ta-Ta, and the Ha-Ha just around the corner, we’ve realizied how much we miss home, friends, family and Mexico. So come January, Moonshadow will be heading back to Ensenada — aboard a ship. We plan to return to winters in Mexico based out of La Cruz, and summers at the San Diego Yacht Club. So look for us in the 2018 Ha-Ha, and if there’s room, the Ta-Ta, too."

By the way, if anyone has any experience with having a boat shipped from Australia to Ensenada, John and Debbie would appreciate hearing from you. You can contact them at [email protected].

Monohulls. Foiling monohulls. At least that’s the news we heard from Radio New Zealand, who on Tuesday wrote, "The next edition of America’s Cup racing will switch from catamarans to high-performance monohull yachts, defending champions Team New Zealand have confirmed. 
Here is your September Caption Contest(!). We’re excited to see what you all come up with for this quirky, head-scratching photo.