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April 13, 2018

Clipper Fleet Pursued by “Creatures”

“Let me paint a picture. Outside it’s blowing a solid 50 knots and gusting 70-75 in the hail squalls. The temperature is sub-zero. The sea state is massive and regularly breaking. We just hit a top speed of… wait for it 32.8 knots! This is where you tread lightly and feel like a gazelle running between a pride of lions. Safety is top priority, we stopped ‘racing’ 24 hours ago." So said Dale Smyth, skipper of Dare to Lead, one of 11 Clipper 70s racing across the North Pacific Ocean from Qingdao, China, to Seattle, on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, the Clipper Race fleet sailed through a southeasterly low-pressure system described as packing "hurricane-force winds" and a chaotic sea state.

© Clipper Race

"Waves greater than 14 metres" were reported — that’s 46 feet! “It was just at dawn; I was behind the helm and I looked around and saw nothing and everything at the same time," said GREAT Britain skipper David Hartshorn. "It was like being on another planet; I had forgotten how stunningly beautiful and overwhelmingly intimidating at the same time the North Pacific can be.

“Waves the size of houses would be too cliché to try and describe the sea state. To me they are more like pursuing creatures, charging down on us as they raise in height, stimulated by some mythical wave charmer, to envelope and then consume the GREAT Britain boat.”

"The wind was supposed to turn and it did back on a broad reach facing the waves from the previous gale," said Garmin’s skipper, Gaëtan Thomas. "The boat jumped in the air and a nasty wave, when we were shaking out a reef, hit us badly.

"All the team were washed down. All the lifejackets inflated, and the cockpit was full of water. Dave West was on the mast to spike the handy billy and he was safely double-clipped but he was projected on the mast. Mei Fullerton in the cockpit received James Lawrie on her, and her shoulder is quite in pain, but both of them are inside the boat now and nothing major medically is wrong." 

The fleet has now emerged from the worst of it. Nikki Henderson, the 24-year-old skipper of Visit Seattle, comments: "The sea was just like something off the Perfect Storm — huge towering waves, boiling, seething, breaking, swirling. When we sailed over the top of one, it felt like we had just summited a peak in a mountain range — rolling hills as far as the eye could see. But unlike bleak mountain tops, or the dark black of the films, the sea was the most beautiful mix of colours — dark deep blue, white where it had broken, and bright turquoise as the surf mixed it all up. Just breathtaking. But the best part was definitely the crew. Just seeing these guys and gals managing the weather, enjoying it, experiencing it was incredible."

Trimming a sail in a 50-knot North Pacific gale.

© 2018 Clipper Race

All this after dead slow stretches during the first half of the 5,600-mile leg. The ‘Race to the Emerald City’ was originally scheduled to arrive at Bell Harbor Marina starting tomorrow, but now the boats are not expected until Friday the 20th through Sunday the 22nd. Qingdao is currently in the lead. Track the fleet at

The waves formed in the Gulf of Alaska are now rolling through the Gulf of the Farallones and onto the California coast; breakers up to 20 feet are forecast for today. Be safe out there!

Bohemia After Dark: The Final Days of Docktown

The lights are slowly going out on the Docktown liveaboard community in Redwood City. According to the city’s Docktown Plan, residents were required to move out by February 28, 2018, but a 60-day stay was granted by the courts in response to a lawsuit filed by one of the Docktown residents, so the final date has been pushed back to the end of April. Residents with school-age children can stay until June 30 to complete the school year. Most of the residents have moved out already in any case, and only a dozen or so remain out of the 70 owners and tenants who until recently called Docktown home.

Docktown is an anachronism, a vestige of an earlier age. There are very few liveaboard communities left in the Bay Area, and Docktown was the last one in Redwood City. Docktown’s demise is the result of relentless development pressure in the Bay Area, and a growing intolerance for any kind of community that doesn’t include manicured landscaping surrounding high-density housing. This is especially true along the waterfront, where the people buying multi-million-dollar condos don’t want their million-dollar views cluttered up with old boats in a slowly decomposing marina.

Docktown, at the bottom of the photo, high and dry at low tide in 1990: The old Peninsula Marina, in the top left of the photo, has since been converted to condominiums, with only 25 slips remaining for residents of that community.

© 2018 Bob Diamond

Docktown’s fate was sealed when Citizens for the Public Trust and Ted Hannig, a nearby resident and lawyer, filed suit alleging Docktown was an illegal liveaboard community because it was built on state lands that are governed by the state’s Public Trust Doctrine. Plaintiffs claimed that a residential community was a violation of that doctrine, because residential use reserves for private benefit lands that should be available to all residents of the state. A letter from the Attorney General’s Office to the State Lands Commission seems to confirm that interpretation, although the case never went to court. Redwood City settled the suit before trial, so the legal issues were never adjudicated, leading some residents to suggest that the city viewed the lawsuit as an opportunity to repurpose the land under the cover of the settlement and the Public Trust Doctrine.

That said, Redwood City has made significant efforts to minimize the impact of the order to vacate on Docktown residents. The city has allocated $20.4 million to purchase residents’ vessels or barge-based homes, and has also offered relocation assistance to residents who need it. Unfortunately, the cost of housing in Redwood City is so high that even with assistance, some of the residents have not been, or will not be, able to find alternative housing in that market.

There are currently three lawsuits pending that have been filed by the residents of Docktown Marina. In the first suit, plaintiffs allege that Redwood City lacked jurisdiction to enter into the settlement agreement between the city and Citizens for the Public Trust because the land in question is under jurisdiction of the Port of Redwood City, which is a separate legal entity. Plaintiffs further claim that the settlement was illegal and that the Docktown Plan is void.

Docktown, a few weeks ago. Most residents have already moved out

© 2018 John Tuma

The second suit is a class action filed on behalf of the residents arguing that the city must provide more assistance in relocating the displaced residents of Docktown. And the third suit argues that Redwood City must do an Environmental Impact Report under the California Environmental Quality Act.

These latter two lawsuits, if decided in favor of plaintiffs, may delay the final implementation of the Docktown Plan, but it is the first suit that raises some important legal questions regarding liveaboards and the Public Trust. According to the attorney for the Docktown residents, the State Lands Commission (SLC) has never held hearings on the status of liveaboards on Public Trust lands, so the issue has never been adjudicated. According to the suit, SLC cannot rule that liveaboards are illegal on Public Trust lands, because it is not legal to make such decisions without adequate fact finding. Furthermore, the settlement between Redwood City and Citizens for the Public Trust states that Docktown must conform to state law, but given the lack of fact finding, this raises a simple question, “What is state law?”

Local circumstances matter in issues like this, and the issues surrounding Docktown are unique. Other jurisdictions, facing somewhat similar issues, have found ways to retain liveaboard or residential communities that were built on Public Trust lands, or at least extend their terms of occupancy. But such decisions depend on the specific terms that the local entity agreed to when the SLC transferred management of these lands to their jurisdiction. So even if the courts or the SLC rule on the legality of liveaboards at Docktown, this ruling may or may not apply broadly to other jurisdictions.

Even the sign at Docktown has a melancholy feel to it.

© John Tuma

Nonetheless, there are a number of issues related to Docktown that should concern all of us who cherish access to the Bay. The first is the relentless development pressure in and around the Bay Area. Waterfront is increasingly prime real estate, and there is no higher value use for waterfront land than housing. There is a launch ramp at Docktown, although the extreme tidal nature of Redwood Creek means that the ramp is only available when the tide is high. The owner of the land adjacent to Docktown has proposed a 131 unit residential development, and the preliminary drawings show a marina and launch ramp, along with space for a public park.

But the development is a long way from complete, and both the marina and the launch ramp could disappear before the project is finished. According to a spokesperson for the city, they have not yet determined what kind of access will be available once the land has been redeveloped, and questions of access will be addressed as development proposals work their way through the permitting process. It would be ironic if the Public Trust Doctrine was used to shut down Docktown — which does provide water access for boaters — and the final development includes nothing more than a walking path along the water, with no real water access for the citizens of the state.

The second concern is the increasingly fragile nature of the Bay Area boating ecosystem. Currently, there are no boatyards in the South Bay, and boating-related services have largely been priced out of the area. Redwood Creek remains an active boating venue, and is still home to several marinas, yacht clubs and sailing schools, and Redwood Creek is popular with kayakers and paddleboarders. But despite the popularity of the venue, water access is increasingly restricted, and large swaths of land that once supported boating and marine-related services have been converted to residential use. This problem is not unique to Redwood City, but is true throughout the Bay Area.

Docktown has always been a unique slice of boating Bohemia.

© 2018 John Tuma

Like the working waterfront before it, the recreational waterfront is slowly disappearing. Floating communities like Docktown are being squeezed out by development and the gentrification of lands that once were considered marginal. The anachronistic Docktown has always been a place where people who marched to the beat of a different drummer could find a community of like-minded free spirits. Even if the marina remains, it will be different, replaced by a well-regulated facility with no more than 10 percent liveaboards, thereby ensuring that even if the marina is full, it is 90 percent empty of people most of the time. The lights are going out at Docktown, and even if the remaining residents are successful in their lawsuits, that community will never be the same.

For more information about Docktown and the Docktown Plan, go to and find the Docktown Marina tab.

Standing Room Only for Liz Clark

Liz Clark last night at St. Francis last night.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

"Get vulnerable." That was the parting advice from surfer, singlehanded sailor and now author Liz Clark last night at St. Francis Yacht Club. "When you’re vulnerable, you learn a lot about yourself." It was an exceptionally packed house, with a waiting list reportedly 60 people deep to see Clark speak on her national book tour which started in Hawaii and will end on the East Coast. Clark showed slides and read passages from her photo book Swell: A Sailing Surfer’s Voyage of Awakening. Among the droves in attendance were a number of young women.

A picture of a picture shot by none other than Latitude founder Richard Spindler, back in the early 2000s in Santa Barbara. The Grand Poobah was passing through town on Profligate when he first met Clark and learned of her plans to cruise the South Pacific aboard her Cal 40 Swell. Massive kudos to the Poobah for seeing that there was something incredibly special about Clark, and massive kudos to you, the Latitude readership for making donations to Liz throughout the years. We’re all richer for her experiences.

©2018 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

At the beginning of the lecture, Clark and surfer Anna Santoro promoted the burgeoning Changing Tides Foundation, an environmental advocacy group started by a group of waterwomen and adventurers who have teamed up "with local organizations globally to raise awareness and address social, environmental, health and safety concerns" around the world. Clark, who calls herself an environmental and spiritual activist, told the crowd last night, "Don’t give up on your dreams, whatever they are." 

At the end of March, boats in the so-called ‘Waiting Room’  — the anchorage just outside Marina Puerto Escondido — were given 48 hours to move out.
Delta Doo Dah X (has it been 10 years already? No way!) had a ‘soft’ opening last week, and we invite you to sign up and sail to the California Delta this season.
Yesterday was legendary French circumnavigator Bernard Moitessier’s birthday. Born in Hanoi, Vietnam, in 1925, Moitessier would have been 93 years old (he died in 1994 at the age of 69).