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September 9, 2020

Darkness Engulfs California

We woke up this morning to, well, night time.

This photo was taken at 11:30 this morning, as the Larkspur ferry passed San Quentin.
© 2020 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Tim

“With wildfire smoke high aloft in the atmosphere, the sky was a sickly yellow on Tuesday, but today a thicker blanket of toxic air is traveling overhead and the color turned an even stranger, richer hue,” SF Gate reported. “The sun’s rays struggled to penetrate the smoke, and at 10:45 a.m., it looked as if it were dawn.” There have also been reports of “snowing ash.”

Adding to the utter strangeness, there is no discernible scent of smoke in the air here in the Bay Area — or certainly nothing like there has been in the last few days and weeks.

According to ABC7 News Meteorologist Mike Nicco, “The marine layer is a stable area of air that does not rise, and so we’re continually pumping in cleaner air from over the ocean.”  Which is to explain why the sky has such a dark orange hue, but the air smells relatively fresh.

After five days of 90-degree weather, the temperature has also dropped. Everything is back to normal in other words, except that day has turned to night and the apocalypse feels as if it’s upon us.

You win again, 2020.

It was headlights on on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge just a half hour before noon today.
© 2020 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Tim

Mexico Cruising Update from South of the Border

There have always been plenty of reasons for heading south to Mexico in the winter. It’s warmer and sunnier, and world cruisers always report that the Mexican cruising community and Mexican people make it the best cruising grounds in the world. Still, the 2020/21 season is causing some people to hesitate. We’ve been staying in touch with folks in Mexico and, at present, can report that cruising to Mexico sounds as reasonable as ever. That’s not to say there aren’t any impacts from COVID-19, but most of them are currently manageable.

We spoke with Pablo Fernandez of Marina Vallarta, also vice president of the Mexico Marina Association. Pablo, association president Neil Shroyer of Marina de La Paz, and Fito Espinosa of Marina Coral in Ensenada have all been working with their local municipalities to mitigate the risks associated with the pandemic. The data from the coast appears they’ve been very successful. Like everywhere, lots of responsibility lies with individual behavior, but they’re doing all they can.

Pablo Fernandez marina Vallarta
Harbormaster Pablo Fernandez of Marina Vallarta is working with harbormasters up and down the coast to create smooth sailing for cruisers in Mexico.
© 2020 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

Pablo reports the trends are good in Mexico. In the city of Puerto Vallarta the recent count is 2981 cases with 31 deaths and only 28% of the hospitals’ capacities utilized. The border is open to cruisers, boats can cruise between ports, and the beaches are now open.

The details of what is allowed can sometimes be confusing. Recreational boating has been restricted, but that ruling refers to people who live in Mexico and are planning to use their boat for the day. Cruisers living aboard their boats are not included in the category of recreational boaters. Pablo also reports that there are boat guest limits, but that these do not include working crew. So families, or multiple people sailing with you as crew, do not count toward the number of guests that would otherwise be allowed to sail with you for a day.

Paradise Village Marina
Dick Markie and the crew from Paradise Village Marina are looking forward to welcoming cruisers for the upcoming season.
© 2020 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

We all know that whatever is being reported now could change tomorrow. Cruisers, understandably, say they are cautious. Though some are more anxious than ever to head south, many plan to spend more time cruising Southern California while they wait to see how things unfold.

An online survey that we published a few weeks ago received 27 responses. (You can add your input here.) The survey indicated the largest number of folks, 27%, can’t wait to go and are heading south. Another 20% are going to head to Southern California and see how the news unfolds, and 15% are planning to postpone for a year. Others are returning to boats already in Mexico, and the rest have a variety of contingency plans.

Comments ranged from “Living aboard this summer in San Jose del Cabo. Most everything is open, although I’m avoiding everything except the grocery stores. The locals are eager to have the tourists (they need the work), and I plan on enjoying the Costa Alegre portion of mainland Mexico during the cruising season coming up” to “We won’t leave until February and [will] just do the Sea of Cortez” to “We postponed our Mexico and Ha-Ha plans. Just not as fun to be internationally traveling during a pandemic. Going to go up and down the Cali coast instead.”

At anchor in Yelapa, Mexico
No matter when you go to Mexico, you will be assured of an abundance of beautiful places to visit.
© 2020 Monica Grant

As we have all learned this year, the future can be uncertain, but we’re also quite sure that the areas frequented by Mexico cruisers will be as safe as just about any place in the US. If you’re planning on spending extra time in Southern California while you decide what to do, make sure you read Mike Pyzel’s story in our August issue. If you plan on spending extra time in San Diego, make sure to call in advance for guest slips as marinas report being near full occupancy.

It’s not as easy as it was in the past to simply up-anchor and head south at a moment’s notice, but the reasons to go are as compelling as ever. Right now the cruising grounds are open, the COVID case numbers are low, and you will have plenty of company while heading south. It will be different, but it appears the pandemic is something that can be successfully navigated at home or in Mexico.

Good Samaritans Rally to Assist Sailors Awaiting Rescue

Good Samaritans from three separate vessels rallied to assist the US Coast Guard in the rescue of three sailors on Friday night. The 33-ft sailboat Sirus was on a passage from Coos Bay, Oregon, to San Diego when they were found by a passing ship approximately 75 miles southwest of Gualala Point. Crew aboard Aquila, an 1190-ft container ship, notified Coast Guard Sector San Francisco watchstanders at around 7:10 p.m. that the vessel had damage to its sails, engine and steering components, and that one of its crewmembers had suffered a minor head injury.

The CMA CGM Aquila crew then transferred supplies to the sailors aboard Sirus, who said they had been at sea for 13 days and were low on food and water.

The Coast Guard issued an urgent marine-information broadcast, and diverted the 87-ft San Francisco-based patrol boat Tern from Santa Cruz. Prior to the Coast Guard’s arrival two other vessels diverted their courses to offer assistance. Upon arrival of the 195-ft motor yacht Seanna at around 11:45 p.m., Aquila departed the scene. The next vessel to arrive was the crude-oil tanker Polar Enterprise. The ship had traveled 75 miles to help, and upon arrival relieved Seanna and her crew.

Sirus near Polar Enterprise
The disabled Sirus drifts near what appears to be the Polar Enterprise — the third vessel to stay with Sirus until the Coast Guard arrived.
© 2020 Seaman Ryan Estrada, USCG District 11

The Coast Guard vessel Tern arrived at around 3:05 p.m. Saturday and stern-towed Sirus toward Bodega Bay. However, due to hazardous sea conditions, the Tern was diverted toward San Francisco Bay. The towing was then taken over by a Coast Guard Station Golden Gate 47-ft response-boat crew in the vicinity of the Golden Gate Bridge, at around 8:00 a.m. Sunday. The Sirus was moored at Pier 45 in Sausalito after a 20-hour towing operation.

Sirus under tow
Sirus‘s rescue involved the help of three civilian vessels and two Coast Guard response-boat crews over approximately 38 hours.
© 2020 Seaman Ryan Estrada, USCG District 11

“These folks are lucky to be alive,” said Capt. Howard Wright, deputy commander of Coast Guard Sector San Francisco. “This happy outcome was the result of tremendous cooperation between the Coast Guard, private companies and vessels. I especially want to thank the crews, agents and owners of the CMA CGM Aquila, Seanna, and Polar Enterprise for selflessly safeguarding the lives onboard the Sirus until Coast Guard crews arrived. This case highlights the vital importance of being properly equipped when starting a voyage, and creating a float plan to ensure the Coast Guard is notified if the voyage does not go as planned.”

Sirus‘s crewmembers are scheduled to make repairs to their sailboat in San Francisco prior to continuing their voyage.

This video of the towing operation was taken by Seaman Ryan Estrada, USCG District 11


Close Racing in La Solitaire du Figaro

Legs 1 and 2

After the first two stages of the 51st running of La Solitaire du Figaro, French sailor Armel Le Cléac’h on Banque Populaire has worked his way to the top of the leaderboard with two stages still to go. Sailed in hydrofoil-equipped Beneteau Figaro 3s, the one-design solo offshore regatta attracted 35 boats this year, despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Sailed in four stages around France and Great Britain, the race is perhaps most famous for its incredibly close one-design racing and massive fleets of boats racing into the finish, oftentimes overlapped.

Figaro Leg 2 start
The fleet of 35 Beneteau Figaro 3s at the start of Leg 2 of La Solitaire du Figaro.
© 2020 Alexis Courcoux / La Solitaire du Figaro

In the first leg, Xavier Macaire won a tacking duel to the finish over young Lois Berrehar to claim victory by just 1 minute, 35 seconds. After nearly four days of solo racing to Fastnet Rock and back, fully 80% of the 35-boat fleet finished within one hour of the leader — incredibly close racing. On the second leg, Armel Le Cléac’h again tried a northerly routing option in the early stages. Instead of setting him deep in the fleet as on the first leg — forcing him to play catch-up — his gutsy tactical move paid dividends in the second leg. Establishing an early lead, the Vendée Globe winner and two-time Figaro champion continued to extend on the fleet almost all the way to the finish, allowing him to open up just a bit of a gap on the fleet in the overall results.

Armel Le Cléac’h on Banque Populaire during Leg 2.
© 2020 La Solitaire du Figaro

Briton Sam Goodchild continually worked his way up the leaderboard and eventually ground down Yann Eliès to claim second place in Leg 2 and move into third place overall. Three-time event winner Eliès is still well in contention, currently in fourth place overall.

Three men with champagne bottles
The Leg 2 podium finishers, left to right: Sam Goodchild, Armel Le Cléac’h and Yann Eliès.
© 2020 Alexis Courcoux / La Solitaire du Figaro

Legs 3 and 4

The next two legs will take the fleet from their current location in Dunkerque, out the English Channel, and around the northwest corner of France before some coastal touring along the west coast and Brittany region. Conditions have thus far been pretty mild for the fleet, and the next leg looks like it could be more of the same, with stronger frontal pressure reaching France just at the conclusion of Leg 3 or after. With light, variable and constantly evolving breeze in the forecast, combined with the big currents of the English Channel and the top of France, Leg 3 could prove to be the most challenging yet. Whether it will shuffle the leaderboard or solidify it remains to be seen.

Should Armel Le Cléac’h manage to claim victory in this year’s La Solitaire it would mark a stunning comeback for the Vendée Globe winner. Since his last major triumph, Le Cléac’h had a brief and wild ride with the most recent Banque Populaire trimaran that ended in two capsizes and bitter disappointment. Another win in the Figaro would go a long way to silence his critics and exorcise personal demons. Sam Goodchild, on the other hand, is the first English sailor to truly have a shot at winning the event in the modern era. He’s knocking on the door of being the first non-French entry to win a stage since 1998, when Irishman Damian Foxall did it. English ocean racing legend Phil Sharp is currently in 23rd place. The third leg of the Solitaire du Figaro starts on Saturday.

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