September 11, 2019

Bahamas Reckoning with Scale of Devastation

As of yesterday, the official death toll in the Bahamas climbed to 50. But as rescuers are only now getting to some of the hardest-hit areas of the low-lying archipelago — like a demolished neighborhood in Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco Island — the toll is expected to rise. Dorian was one of the strongest Caribbean hurricanes on record, according to The New York Times, and the worst disaster in Bahamian history, leaving in its wake a truly grave and horrific situation. The Times said that nearly 70,000 people were in need of food and shelter, with an estimated $3 billion in property damaged by the storm.

“A Reuters journalist on Sunday saw government workers, wearing disposable hazmat suits, rubber boots and masks, remove one body from a rubble-filled teal building,” The Times reported in another article. “Nearby, nearly a dozen workers creeping across the surrounding hellscape found and marked three more corpses that need to be removed before heavy machinery, slated to arrive from Nassau on Monday, begins clearing out the wobbly mountains of plywood riddled with rusted nails that once housed thousands.”

Several readers have told us that this is most likely Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco Island.
© 2019 Unknown Source

As is often the case during such tragedies, the silver linings often come though the outpouring of support.

“Six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan has pledged $1 million to organizations assisting with Hurricane Dorian relief efforts,” Fox News reported. A cruise ship was one of the first vessels to arrive in Grand Bahama last week, packed with doctors and nurses, according to The NY Times. “Bahamas Paradise only sails to the Bahamas, and so company officials decided that instead of sidelining its ships and waiting for better times, it would launch a humanitarian mission to help the thousands of people forced from their homes who lacked food and running water.

“Bahamas Paradise joined Royal Caribbean, Disney, Norwegian and Carnival and other cruise companies in providing among the most robust corporate responses to Hurricane Dorian.”

West Coast sailors SV Delos have started a Dorian relief page, and are currently matching funds. “In support of relief efforts we pledge to 100% match Delos Tribe contributions. So for every $5 you donate, we will match your donation and contribute $5 as well for the first $2,500 in donations we receive. Let’s turn $2,500 into $5,000! For about the same as a cup of coffee we can get together and make a huge difference.”

Sadly, tragedies can also bring out the worst in people. “The people of the Northern Bahamas are suffering in a way that most people/communities will never suffer,” said Wiley Sharp Catamaran Expert on his YouTube channel. “Yet I’ve already received phone calls about buying Dorian Salvage boats. If you have any interest in capitalizing off of the disaster, while the Bahamians are without food, medical aid, or hope — then you can f@ck off.”

This story has been updated.

Bay Area Man Will Set Sail to Hawaii in 8-ft Boat

As far as we know, the smallest boat ever to sail to Hawaii is the 10-ft Yankee Girl. In 1981, relying partly on outboard power in low-wind conditions, 41-year-old Gerry Spiess made it from Long Beach to Honolulu in 34 days. Forty years later, Wilbur Spaul hopes to do Spiess one better by making the same 2,200-mile crossing in his 8-ft sailboat Chubby Girl. But it will probably take a bit longer.

Wil spent about 18 months building Chubby Girl at a friend’s house in Walnut Creek. Like Yankee Girl, she is self-designed and self-built, constructed of marine plywood coated with fiberglass and epoxy. As mentioned, the boat is 8-ft LOA (the same length as an El Toro) and draws about 4 feet. Empty weight is about 1,100 pounds. Loaded with stores, electronics and Spaul, it will weigh about twice that. (Yankee Girl also came in about 2,200 pounds, loaded.)

Chubby Girl at the dock in Alameda with a good-sized powerboat for scale. A “mast” has since been added to the 8-ft boat.
© 2019 Wilbur Spaul

Weather willing, he hopes to depart the Bay for Hawaii sometime in October to coincide with several milestones. One is his 70th birthday. 2019 also marks the 40th anniversary of Spiess’s first ocean crossing (in 1979, from Virginia Beach to Falmouth in 54 days). Chubby Girl’s trip will also serve as a dedication to Spiess himself, who passed away in June.

Spaul is a very experienced sailor. Among many adventures in the last half century, he lived aboard the 42-ft trimaran Wind Rose for 21 years and singlehanded the boat from San Francisco to Florida.

Spaul is a realist about the pending voyage. He’s built Chubby Girl to be watertight, even during rollovers. El Sobrante naval architect Jim Antrim ran some stability numbers and suggested several tweaks to the design, which Spaul has been implementing over the last few months. Pineapple Sails in Alameda built the boat’s twin jibs and free-floating mainsail, and Hansen Rigging, also in Alameda, is putting the A-frame-type mast and rigging together.

Spaul thinks in the right conditions, Chubby Girl will be able to average 2.5 knots. At that speed, he figures the trip will take 50 to 65 days. Just in case, he is provisioning for up to 80 days.

So why is he doing it? “The personal challenge,” he says.  “I’ve been thinking about this for the last 45 years — I just really want to know if an 8-foot boat can make the passage.”

Look for much more about Wil Spaul and Chubby Girl in an upcoming issue.

How Do You Put the Weather Together?

All signs were pointing to a windy day.

It was Friday, August, 23, and the fog in Marin gushed over the foothills of Mount Tam, the trees shook furiously, and the air was chilly and bit at the skin. Days before, weather.com predicted higher-than normal winds on the 23rd for the East Bay.

There was another factor in how I was putting the day together: Exactly one week prior, and at the conclusion of several days of hotter-than-normal temperatures in the Bay, there was a blow. “It’s a marine surge,” a fellow windsurfer at Point Isabel said matter-of-factly.

These components represented my general process for making a call on the weather: Watch the elements, check a basic (and free) forecast, and, if possible, incorporate some kind of precedent or trend.

Berkeley Marina (looking toward Emeryville) on Sunday, August 18. Photos, of course, rarely do justice to a dynamic sea state — it was actually blowing between 25 and 30 this evening. This windy weekend was prefaced by several days of hot, stagnant weather before the seabreeze returned with vigor.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Tim

Latitude Nation, a question: How do you put the weather together? What tools do you use? What forecasts do you follow? Do you feel the weather out? Do you watch the fog, clouds, texture of the water, etc., to get a sense of what’s what?

On this question, perhaps more than any other, we would like to know what you think (a link will be provided below). Please go into as much detail as you can muster.

Do you actively try to expand your weather knowledge and learn new terms, techniques and technology? Are you big into apps and weather-forecasting sites? If so, which ones, how often do you check them, and how exclusively do you rely on them? How often are you right — or wrong — in your predictions?

Or, do you just sail when you want to sail, the weather be damned?

More breeze in Berkeley on the weekend of August 18.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Tim

Sure enough, my prediction — or educated guess/divination/prognostication — about the 23rd was right*. It was nuking, almost as windy as Point Isabel ever gets. (*The wind actually died as soon as I went out. I drove to another spot and re-rigged; the wind died almost immediately, again.)

A few windsurfers kept talking about the “weird eddy” just offshore that was cranking out the big breezes. I’m vaguely familiar with the concept of an eddy, but more familiar with the idea that sailors sometimes need phenomena to explain the weather to themselves. Just like me, other people piece their predictions together — even if the details differ (my knowledge is, admittedly, very elementary). On any given day, I feel like most experienced sailors pretty much have a 50/50 chance of predicting the conditions. Most windsurfers use a popular app which includes a daily forecast as well as conditions in real time. I swear, they say that the forecast is dead wrong more often than not.

Maybe I’ll incorporate “marine surges” and “eddies” into my weather vocabulary, but I follow my own program because it’s what works for me. At times, I actively avoid listening to other people because everyone’s opinion tends to be both absolute and disparate, which kind of messes up my mojo if I pay too much attention.  In nearly 50 days of sailing this season, I’ve only been ‘skunked’, or not able to sail, for four days — which, for me, is a remarkably good ratio. I would love to say it’s my superior weather knowledge, but I’m sure I’ve just been super lucky, and maybe, have had a good attitude — I readily accept that there will be good days and bad, and that any day at the water is a good one.

My own program also means minimal technology. For me, feeling out the conditions is the whole reason and purpose for sailing — to observe, listen, learn, and expand knowledge and experience.

“Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them.”
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Tim

So, seriously, Nation, we want to hear your deepest thoughts about your relationship with the weather. You can email us here, or comment below.

On Saturday, hundreds of people welcomed Jeanne Socrates and Nereida as she coasted across the finish line into Victoria, British Columbia, to become the oldest person to sail alone, nonstop and unassisted around the world.
Ships in the Night
Nation — As always, Latitude’s newest (and managing-est) editor will be wearing his blue and gold Latitude long sleeve T-shirt — with the number 38 on the back — on Wednesday at the Crew List Party at the Bay Model in Sausalito.