August 19, 2019

The Tower and the Rower

Sailors are probably accustomed to seeing a boat under tow —  it happens. But if you were sailing on the Bay on Saturday afternoon, you might have seen the curious sight of a sailboat towing a rowboat. And not just your average rowboat, but a bright-orange oceangoing vessel that will be home to adventurer Alex Bellini as he rows through the center of the North Pacific Gyre, which has infamously become a floating garbage patch.

On Saturday evening, Alex embarked on a mission to create greater awareness of the pollution caused by our habitual use and disposal of plastics. “We are very far from the consequences of our actions,” Alex said.

By rowing right through the densest part of the garage patch, Alex aims to capture the reality of this horrific region. Though rather than bombarding people with overwhelming facts and figures, he will document his experience with photos and video footage in an effort to bring people closer to the issue and inspire them to take action. “I hope by doing this more, people will be willing to accept that we’re in an emergency,” he explained.

Despite Alex’s impressive rowing résumé — over 21,000 miles solo across two oceans — his biggest challenge would be crossing the 500 to 600 miles to the Gyre’s northeastern edge. He was running out of time to complete his two-week journey through the patch before the ocean’s seasons turn against him.

Alex will sleep and cook in his cabin, which is smaller than a two-person tent.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Monica

Determined to find his way across the Pacific quickly, Alex contacted Latitude 38 with the news that he was looking for ‘a ride’ to the garbage patch. Local sailor and professional charter-boat captain Andy Kurtz read the story and offered his services. In a bizarre twist of irony, Andy makes plastic bottle caps. “It’s a weird thing,” Andy said. “You can’t be a sailor and not have some environmentalist in you.”

Andy is now towing Alex’s Rosa de Atacama (loosely translated: ‘A little rose that blossoms in the desert’) behind his Columbia 57, Angelique. As an experienced sailor, Andy has thousands of sea miles and numerous towing operations behind him — from his first sailboat encounter as an 8-year-old on Tomales Bay to crossing the Pacific, running charters in Hawaii, and even surviving a stabbing in Mexico.

The tower and the rower had originally intended to leave the Bay Area three days earlier, but the longer-term forecast did not bode well for a 21-ft rowboat bobbing along at the end of a 150- to 300-ft line. “My biggest concern,” Andy said, “even in 30 knots, is how is it going to tow.” Although Rosa de Atacama is designed to roll, Andy said rolling would cause the load on the towline to be “astronomically much higher” and could cause her to break loose.

Alex spent 40 days looking for ‘a ride’ before meeting Andy Kurtz and Angelique.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Monica

Between the two vessels, Andy and Alex have a range of weather forecasting and communications options, including AIS. “So we’ll be able to find it at least,” he added.

Despite their opposing plastic perspectives, Andy and Alex appear to have been brought together for a common purpose. “I’m interested in the cause,” Andy said, agreeing that plastic is part of a “growing problem” that needs to be addressed. “He’s not trying to raise hysteria,” he said of Alex, “he wants to dispel the myth.”

The darker the color the more garbage there is. Alex looks at an image sent to him by Mary Crowley of Ocean Voyages Institute who has given him transponders to attach to ghost fishing nets.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Monica

Looking ahead, Andy commented that his sailor’s instincts will be challenged when they reach their destination. “It will feel strange to have him get off my boat and then sail away in the middle of nowhere. You can’t . . . you don’t leave someone in distress.”

We sincerely wish Andy and Alex fair winds and a safe return, their individual yet shared missions completed.

You can follow their journey to the Gyre on Alex’s Facebook page. Then stay tuned to ‘Lectronic Latitude for updates on the Tower and the Rower.

From left, videographer Justin Lewis, Andy Kurtz, and Alex Bellini were all smiles as made their way through the Bay before heading out the Gate.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Monica

The Crew List Party Changed His Life

In response to a call-out for Crew List Party success stories, Rich Morse wrote: “In 2014, still very new to sailing, I attended the Crew List Party and felt like a fish out of water. I must have looked it too — one of the Latitude 38 staff introduced me to Natasha (now Captain) Pyle because we both did some sailing out of Alameda. A few months later I volunteered to fill in for a last-minute crew cancelation on a delivery she was crewing on, aboard a 56-ft Taswell en route to Anacortes, Washington.”

Natasha and Rich
Natasha Pyle and Rich Morse underway.
© 2019 Courtesy Rich Morse

“Later, Natasha convinced me to volunteer aboard the 51-ft wooden ketch Pegasus, out of Berkeley Marina. This nonprofit takes kids and veterans for sails on the Bay and has led to the most rewarding part of my sailing life. I get to sail a big old wooden boat and make kids happy. What’s not to like?”

Pegasus sailing
Rail down, Pegasus glides through the windy waters of San Francisco Bay.
© 2019 Courtesy Rich Morse

“In the meantime, our first delivery led to other trips. Five years later I have about 7,500 ocean miles from Cabo to Canada and up the East Coast. A second delivery to Anacortes was among them, and last year my wife and I moved to Anacortes. You could say that the Crew List Party changed my life!”

Has a connection made at a Latitude Crew List Party changed your life? If so, we’d love to hear about. Email us here, and be sure to include a couple of photos!

The next Crew List Party will be held at a new venue, the Bay Model Visitor Center in Sausalito, on Wednesday, September 11. We hope to see you there! For all the details, see our newly redesigned Crew List Party web page.

The Weekend Report, East Bay Edition

After a few days of 100-degree weather here in the Bay Area, some of us wondered if it would ever be cool — or windy — again. When the heat finally broke on Friday, the breeze was not far behind. At Point Isabel in Richmond, it came on slow at first, so much so that we wondered if it would even be sail- or windsurfable. But by the time we rigged up, we were wondering if we needed a smaller sail, fin, and board — or if we should go out at all.

During last week’s heat, everything on the Bay was calm. But when things cooled off, the water came alive.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Tim

A few windsurfers called the rapidly building breeze a “marine surge,” a term that we haven’t really heard before. The sailors implied that when the prevailing temperature gradient returns after a prolonged period of heat and stagnant wind, the breeze is finally sucked into the scorching-hot interior of the state with gusto — pun not originally intended, but what the hell.

A windsurfer heads into a jibe yesterday in front of the now-abandoned Hs Lordships in Berkeley.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Tim

Regardless, it was super-windy in the East Bay on Friday, but also patchy. Thirty-knot gusts were bordered by swaths of light or even absent wind. The breeze was quite simply confused and unsettled.

There’s lot of traffic in the East Bay. We prefer the lighter, carbon-free lanes on the water.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC /

The entire discussion was a reminder of how subjective discussions of wind conditions inevitably are. When talking about real and measurable phenomena, we find that most sailors tend to, either knowingly or otherwise, apply their own emotions. Interpreting what the wind is doing can include a factoring in of what the sailor wants it to do, or is frustrated that the wind is doing something else when they had other expectations (on Friday, we had neglected to bring our heavy-air equipment, and were counting on a nice, mellow sail, rather than being blasted around the Bay.)

Any thoughts on this? Please email us here, or comment below.

A sailboat goes main-only on Sunday off Emeryville and in front of the Port of Oakland. This photo does do some justice to the 25-plus-knot breeze that filled in around 4 p.m. yesterday following hours of more moderate conditions.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Tim

Anyway, we digress. To recap the news. It was hot during the week, then the weekend was windy.

And it was awesome.

Gotcha, Green Flash!

On August 9, we posted a story about the “Mysterious Green Flash,” and wondered if any readers had managed to capture the elusive flash in a photo. Apparently some of you did!

“A few years ago, in mid-February, I was out with my boy Sierra (our first golden retriever and sailing buddy) for a daysail. It was late afternoon on a cool, crisp day.  We were out near Alcatraz when I noticed that the conditions were ripe for a green flash. I started tacking back and forth so that the sun would be setting right in the middle of the Golden Gate Bridge. As it hit the horizon, a huge green flash struck and shot up into the sky. I let out a loud yelp. It was my first flash on my boat. What a treat! As luck would have it, someone in Berkeley (about three miles away) happened to have a nice lens on a good camera and caught the flash as I was passing by. I happened to see the photo online. As there were very few boats out on this Monday afternoon, there we were in the photo. Our lucky day indeed!” — Craig Russell, Aquarius, 40-ft Jeanneau, Emeryville, six-time Baja Ha-Ha vet.

Sunset with Golden Gate Bridge and green flash
Aquarius as photographed from Bruce Adornato’s trawler. Craig sent us this one, but, coincidentally, Bruce sent in a file of the same image. “I am having a vague recollection of sharing that picture with the sailboat owner,” writes Bruce. “We were crossing the Bay late on a hot, smoggy October eve. I took it with my old Razor flip phone, so the resolution could be better.”
© 2019 Bruce Adornato
Jane Goldsmith of the Crealock 37 Tropicbird captured this image on the west side of Kauai, Hawaii, several years ago.
© 2019 Jane Goldsmith
Taken off Moonstone Beach, CA. Piedras Blanca’s lighthouse is the sillouette on left side of sun.
© 2019 John Barreiro

Not a green flash, but a green sky at sunset, this image shows the view looking SSE from the harbor in Bellingham, WA.

“Never saw a green tint like that before or since,” writes John Schroeder of the Fraser 42 Hoku Iki. “Taken with my Samsung.”
© 2019 John Schroeder
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Labor Day Weekend offers a veritable cornucopia of racing options on the West Coast. Surely, there is something (and maybe more than one thing) for every sailor.