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September 23, 2020

Little Big Boat Heads West

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” – C.S. Lewis

In this weirdest and — for many of us — most stressful of years, we are extra happy to report that one man’s dream of almost half a century will be realized at the end of this month: On September 27, Wil Spaul will sail out the Golden Gate and head west aboard the 9-ft Chubby Girl, in hopes of setting a new record for the smallest boat ever to sail to Hawaii.

Regular readers will likely ‘know’ Wil pretty well by now through articles in both the print and ‘Lectronic versions of Latitude 38. To recap: Wilbur Spaul, who has been sailing and cruising since the ’70s, has dreamed of doing this trip for 45 years. His inspiration was and is Gerry Spiess, who in 1981 sailed the 10-ft Yankee Girl from Long Beach to Honolulu in 34 days. (Spaul has dedicated this voyage to Spiess, who passed away in 2019.) Wil designed and built the first Chubby Girl in 2018-2019 of fiberglass over marine plywood, in Walnut Creek. But sea trials went poorly, and the boat, while strong, turned out to be too sluggish. In February, he salvaged what gear he could, Sawzall’ed the rest, and tossed the remains into a dumpster.

By then, Wil had made some local friends, notably Cree Partridge of Berkeley Marine Center (BMC), and naval architect Jim Antrim. Jim had helped with modifications to the original boat, and when that didn’t work out, Spaul went to him for a design that would. The result — built at BMC — is the current boat, still chubby enough to wear the name, but vastly improved performance-wise. A foot longer than the original, the international orange craft is basically two foam-infused fiberglass dinghies — one in the water, one upside down forming the ‘topsides’ — with a 15-inch spacer in between.

Chubby Girl number two
Just like the first Chubby Girl, the new model doesn’t take up much space. But she’s been designed to be a much more efficient vessel.
© 2020 Wil Spaul

Launched in June, the new Chubby Girl comes in about a third lighter than the original (around 650 pounds empty), and Wil says the performance is night-and-day better. Fully loaded, under her blood-red Pineapple main and small spinnaker, the boat will do about 3 knots downwind. Close reaching with a small jib, she’ll reach about 2 knots.

The plan is to head southwest, possibly far southwest, to get below the Pacific High and catch the trades, then beeline for the islands. As all Hawaii-bound sailors know, it’s extra miles, but worth it to stay out of the windless maw of the High. He figures the 2,400-2,700-mile trip will take about two months. ETA: sometime the first week of December.

The boat is equipped with modern navigation and communications systems, including a YB3 Iridium tracking device that will allow anyone interested to follow Chubby Girl’s progress on Wil’s website, Solar panels will provide power. A windvane will handle steering chores. There is a small watermaker aboard to supplement the jugs he uses as partial ballast. The boat will carry a 5-hp outboard, but unlike Gerry Spiess (who did use limited outboard power during his 1981 trip), Wil does not plan to use it in his crossing. “I’m only carrying enough fuel to get me from Berkeley Marina to the Golden Gate, and into the dock at Kaneohe Bay,” he says. (It’s possible he may save a bit of fuel if he gets a tow to the bridge.)

Chubby Girl interior
Chubby Girl is the poster girl for “A place for everything and everything in its place.” The handle in the middle is the tiller.
© 2020 Wil Spaul

Food stores include high-calorie, low-volume items — mostly canned and freeze dried. He hopes to supplement those with a trolling line. There’s not much room for nonessentials, but Wil has managed to find room for a bottle of Diplomatico Reserve, his favorite Venezuelan rum. He plans to enjoy a tot or two on October 29, his 71st birthday. (We’ve marked our calendars and plan to join that toast from afar.)

We hope, if you are out on the water on Sunday, that you will keep an eye out for one very small and very orange little craft headed west — and perhaps sail over and give one very special dreamer a wave and a hearty ‘Bon Voyage!’

Note: Wil is planning to take advantage of the ebb to launch Chubby Girl‘s record attempt. That starts at around midday on Sunday. At the time of this writing, his exact departure time from Berkeley Marina had not been confirmed. Please check his website for the latest update.

Wil standing in the original Chubby Girl
Wil stands in the original Chubby Girl.
© 2020 Wil Spaul

Solo Sailor in ICU After Suffering Stroke at Sea

On September 16, solo sailor Glenn Wakefield suffered a massive stroke 10 days into his third attempt at a westabout circumnavigation. He was approximately 500 miles west of San Francisco aboard his Sparkman & Stephens Comanche 42 West Wind II when the stroke occurred. Fortunately Glenn was able to send out a distress message to his wife, Mary-Lou, before losing consciousness.

Wakefield family
The Wakefield family gathered for a dockside photo before Glenn’s September 6 departure.
© 2020 Going Solo

The USCG immediately issued a Safety Net broadcast seeking assistance from any nearby vessels. The container ship Colombo Express was nearby and helped the Coast Guard transfer Glenn to the larger ship. From there the sailor was airlifted to San Jose Regional Hospital in an operation that involved five separate aircraft and took almost 48 hours. Glenn has undergone surgery to remove a blood clot in his brain and is currently in stable but critical condition.

Glenn’s circumnavigation began on Sunday, September 6, 2020, at 11 a.m. from Victoria, BC, Canada. “I can hear the fog horns blowing as the local sea gull choir announces the sun rising. I slept well and feel good. Today will be the beginning of another adventure,” he wrote on his blog, Going Solo. Glenn anticipated the voyage would take around 10 months and that he would be sailing back up the Pacific in March/April 2021.

West Wind II on mooring
West Wind II sits in her mooring after an earlier refit.
© 2020 Going Solo

Due to current COVID restrictions, Glenn’s family is unable to come to the US to be by his side and would like to bring him home. “All the hours we have spent worrying about the gales and seas he has to manage … but never this,” Mary-Lou wrote. The family has launched a GoFundMe page to raise money for Glenn’s transfer to a Canadian hospital, and help cover the costs of his treatment in the US.

We wrote about Glenn’s first westabout circumnavigation attempt in April 2008. Glenn was forced to abort this mission about 1,000 miles off the coast of Argentina due to a rollover in the South Atlantic that claimed his solar panels, liferaft and a hatch. He had been at sea for 220 days.

A new westabout solo nonstop circumnavigation will start from San Francisco in October, assuming all goes according to plan. Philippe Jamotte of Redwood City, the reigning Singlehanded Transpacific Race champion, will make the attempt in a Class 40. You’ll be able to read about that in Sightings, coming out in the next issue of Latitude 38 on October 1.

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Where There’s Fire There’s Smoke

It’s been ugly on the docks. We realize many people live far from their Bay Area boat and may not have been able to get to it since the fires have calmed down and the smoke has started clearing out. If, for whatever reason, you haven’t been able to get to your boat, we’d like to remind you that the smoke that’s been in the air and settled onto everything in Northern California has also settled on your boat. We’ve been able to get to our boat a couple of times to wash it down, and it’s been a mess. Check it out:

We’ve talked to dock neighbors who have scrubbed hard and not been able to get the soot completely off their boat. Boat cleaners who have been busy washing and polishing their clients’ boats tell us the smoke has stained some (though not all) decks.

There’s a lot of nasty stuff in that smoky air, and it’s advised that you don’t let it sit for long. We’re fortunate to live reasonably close to our boat, so we can regularly give it a scrub. If you haven’t been able to get to yours yet, you could connect to some Bay Area marine detailers to help you out.

Our boat cleaned up OK, but others haven’t been so lucky. How about you? What have you found in trying to clean and protect your boat from the hazardous Northern California air this summer? Email us here.

That’s a Wrap for the 51st La Solitaire du Figaro

The 51st edition of La Solitaire du Figaro — the single most competitive solo sailing event on Earth — has come to a close in France with current Vendée Globe champion Armel Le Cléac’h claiming overall victory by a very narrow margin of just 10.5 minutes. The one-design offshore regatta was contested in the new 33-ft Beneteau Figaro 3s for the second time since switching to the new hydrofoil-assisted monohulls at the beginning of last season. Consisting of four stages, the Solitaire is essentially like the Tour de France bicycle race, but in sailboats, with cumulative time taken after each stage. It is not uncommon for a sailor to stitch together three good legs and then be on the wrong side of a wind shift in one leg to find themselves knocked off the podium and deep down the rankings. That’s exactly what happened in this thrilling edition, which was defined by light winds and fluky breeze.

Armel on the bow with flare
Armel Le Cléac’h on the bow of Banque Populaire after a dominant performance in the second leg of the race. A gutsy northerly routing option allowed him to open up a big lead early and claim a resounding win in the leg. This would prove to be the decisive tactical move and leg victory that propelled him to an overall win.
© 2020 Alexis Courcoux / La Solitaire du Figaro

Le Cléac’h, the 43-year-old Banque Populaire skipper, managed consistent finishes, including a resounding win in Leg 2. He then worked his way to the top of the main group of boats at the end of the thrilling third leg to finish fourth and help preserve his victory after a small breakaway group of sailors threatened to fully upset the rankings.

It’s Armel’s third overall victory in 19 participations in the event, and his first since 2010, which puts him among an ultra-exclusive group of sailors that includes many legends of the sport. Since winning the Vendée Globe in early 2017, Le Cléac’h has paved a rough road, with two unfortunate capsizes in his new maxi-trimaran, resulting in the eventual loss of the boat. With another maxi-trimaran, Banque Populaire XI, now nearing completion, this win in the Solitaire is sweet redemption for the champion sailor, who was in need of a confidence boost.

Armel on the stage
Armel Le Cléac’h at the awards ceremony, overall winner of the 51st Solitaire du Figaro.
© 2020 Alexis Courcoux / La Solitaire du Figaro

The third leg of the race proved to be critical to the overall rankings. While racing from Dunkerque in Normandy out the English Channel and around the northwest corner of France before descending the Breton coast to a finish in Saint-Nazaire, the fleet became becalmed in a large wind hole. Incredibly, Frederic Duthil on Technique Voile / Cabinet Bourhis Generali managed to go from dead last to first on the stage after a gutsy southerly routing option paid big dividends for him.

Winning the stage and vaulting himself from 10th to second in the overall rankings, Frederic moved himself to just 10 minutes behind Le Cléac’h after more than 1,500 miles and 10 days of competition. When the fourth leg was first shortened and then abandoned entirely due to light wind, his runner-up position was finalized. Tom Laperche, 23, on Bretagne CMB Espoir rounded out the podium a further 50 minutes back of Duthil. Irishman Tom Dolan finished fifth as the top foreign sailor. Kevin Bloch won the Bizuth division as the race’s top rookie sailor.

Fred Duthil sprays champagne
Fred Duthil, 46, celebrates at the end of the third leg after his improbable victory. While sailing in 33rd place — dead last — in the leg, Duthil took a flyer to the south and picked up breeze that allowed him to sail around the entire fleet and claim a huge win in the leg. Combined with solid finishes in the first two legs, the win moved the skipper into second place on the overall podium, and very nearly into first place.
© 2020 Alexis Courcoux / La Solitaire du Figaro

This year’s Solitiare also saw the emergence of a new crop of British sailors who were very much on the pace and immensely competitive, none more so than young Sam Goodchild. Competing in the Solitaire for the first time in four years, the 30-year-old Goodchild managed an incredible second place in the second leg. He led the entire third leg until the end when he went from first to 29th during the late-race reshuffle, which sent him tumbling down the rankings. With Goodchild, the legendary Phil Sharp and the young Alan Roberts all putting in solid results, and Ireland’s Tom Dolan finishing an outstanding fifth overall, it will likely only be a matter of time before a non-French sailor claims overall victory, a feat that has never yet been achieved.

Sailing on calm waters
Sam Goodchild leads the fleet out the English Channel in very light winds during the third leg of the race. Goodchild nearly composed a wire-to-wire win in the third leg before an unfortunate wind shift crushed his hopes of becoming the first non-French or non-Swiss sailor to ever land on the overall podium. It’s only a matter of time before Goodchild wins a leg or earns an overall podium position.
© 2020 Alexis Courcoux / La Solitaire du Figaro
Clearer Air and Warmer Breezes
Did you sail this weekend? The Bay Area enjoyed almost perfect weather and sailors were out in force to take advantage of the sunshine, pleasant breezes and relatively fresh air.
Smoke on the Water
On September 11-13, poor air quality forced the postponement or cancellation of races. So the 2020 Santa Cruz 27 National Championship in Santa Cruz was welcome news — and not only because the regatta actually happened.
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Sun Gazing Into Fall
At 6:31 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time on September 22, 2020, the sun will cross the equator as it moves from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere.