Hurricane Michael has gradually ramped up in strength to a Category 4 storm over the last few days, as it ascended the Gulf of Mexico and veered toward Florida’s Panhandle. With winds up to 150 miles an hour, Michael is making landfall this very moment "with astonishing power," according to the New York Times. "This is the worst storm that our Florida Panhandle has seen in a century," Governor Rick Scott was quoted as saying.
We just received this email from Joshua Longbottom, who was sailing a Bayfield 25 from Kansas City to Belize, and witnessed the birth of Hurricane Michael.
"Placencia, Belize, felt like a real sea port, with a mountain range in the background, dark days and bubbling skies. The feeling was all its own, one of a kind, sailing out from under a plate that wanted to spin, just out from under its outer edge where the plane above turned its lip back up to the open sky. A smarter man would never get to see skies like this above him.
"We sailed just from the core of a gathering storm, looking back and watching. A waterspout formed and touched down. Then a second spout, while the first was still running its course. And a third tried to form too, all the same distance from the core. All came out of that flat-plate cloud, emanated out of the storm center like a ring around Saturn. I was grateful we weren’t five hours later, sailing a course right into this monster."
"All the winds were being sucked toward this thing. And then blowing out the top. I think, ‘What if we got trapped in it?’ Every direction out was a head wind. The ring-cloud started to spin clockwise. The center core tried to twist with it too, but stalled. It wouldn’t quite move — it wanted to, but it couldn’t. Something was still missing.
"An hour later, the sky-covering storm system completely dissipated and disappeared, leaving nothing but blue skies to naked eyes. The conditions were all still right here though, waiting for their next chance at gestation. A moment later, it started over again, seemingly from scratch. It was like this for days — skies bubbling, a rolling boil. Forty-eight hours later, the same thing happened again, only this time it didn’t dissipate; it was assigned a number (13) by NOAA and designated a tropical storm as it headed north of us, out the Yucatan chute and north to Florida, with a 100% chance of cyclonic formation. My dad called to see if I was safe, though the storm is past us already."
After ravaging the Caribbean last year, Hurricane Irma hit the Florida Keys, then Naples and Fort Myers on the Gulf Coast, with the eye passing over Tampa. Floridians were forced to do an evacuation shuffle, initially fleeing the east coast for the west, before returning east after Irma shifted directions.
We spoke with several charter businesses last year in both the Keys and Gulf Coast, many of which emerged mostly unscathed. In some cases, the devastation was compartmentalized to ultra-specific areas — boats that came through with minimal damage were just a few miles away from sections of the Keys that were totaled.
We send our best wishes to the Gulf Coast, and hope the people of Florida pull through this terrible storm.
Singlehanded TransPacific Yacht Race rookie Lee Johnson sailed a Valiant 32, Morning Star, in the race from Tiburon to Hanalei, Kauai, in July, and he departed from Nawiliwili Harbor, bound for San Francisco, on July 20, rather later than his fellow Transbackers. He was glad he sailed back.
"I like this boat. We’re good," he told a gathering of Singlehanded Sailing Society members. "The weather was weird. I had 42 gallons in the tank plus jerry jugs —not a lot of fuel."
Lee’s strategy was to get north to 36° then cut across. But the Pacific High split. "I’m in the cockpit and I realize my mouth is dry. It’s anxiety. It’s my first time, so maybe I don’t know what’s going to happen with the High coming down. I got a Commanders’ Weather report. It said don’t even think about going south."
"At the last sunset, my main backwinds and the water paddle for the windvane is waterskiing behind the boat. I hove to and reeled it in." He found a replacement for it in the bag of windvane spares that came with the boat. "I had planned to re-drill the broken one if there hadn’t been a spare. I pulled it apart and put it back together.
"I thought I was set up for a midday approach, but the wind died. I was motoring on the last of the fuel." He told himself, "If I run out I run out."
Lee sailed into San Francisco Bay on August 13 after 25 days at sea. "I got in at 10 p.m., wind screaming through the Gate, on the south side of the inbound lane. A tug towing a barge was just outside the lane." Lee needed to get the main down. With no autopilot, just a windvane, he couldn’t go head to wind; he had to do it going downwind. "When I filled up at the Oakland Marinas Fuel Dock, it turned out I had all of 6.8 gallons left in the tank."
On August 30, the day after the SSS get-together at Island Yacht Club in Alameda, Lee and Morning Star departed SF Bay for a solo nonstop voyage to their homeport, San Diego.
These days, everything seems to be droning on. What with your self-driving cars, boats, and not far on the horizon . . . ships. That’s right, giant, automated ships. "Spurred in part by the auto industry’s race to build driverless vehicles, marine innovators are building automated ferry boats for Amsterdam canals, cargo ships that can steer themselves through Norwegian fjords and remote-controlled ships to carry containers across the Atlantic and Pacific. The first such autonomous ships could be in operation within three years," the LA Times reported last year.
It’s not just ships, either. In SoCal, long-time reader and part-time contributor Bruce Balan spotted a strange human-less vehicle in Long Beach.
The UFO in question was Boeing’s Echo Voyager, a 51-ft unmanned sub (and we don’t mean a sandwich that eats itself) whose exact mission is unclear. "The aerospace company looks to demonstrate the underwater drone’s more sophisticated capabilities for a US Navy contract competition," the LA Times said.
And as our readers are likely aware, the Bay Area’s own Saildrone is building a fleet of sailing robots that have been circling the globe and collecting scientific data (Saildrones are entirely wind-powered, where the Echo Voyager is a hybrid, running on diesel and batteries). Last week, globetrotting, Figure 8-ing sailor Randall Reeves spotted one of the super-cool, bright-orange, 20-something-ft USVs (Unmanned Surface Vehicles) headed back to the Bay — presumably to Saildrone headquarters in Alameda.
What do you think about all these self-driving watercraft? Super cool? A little scary? Does this all feel a bit like act one in a bad ’80s science fiction flick, where the machines are just one algorithm away from taking over? Do any merchant marines out there worry about losing their jobs to automation? We’d like to know.