The captain of the Conception — the dive boat that was destroyed by fire in September 2019, killing 33 passengers and one crew member — has been indicted on manslaughter charges for each death.
On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that investigators had found that captain Jerry Boylan, who is 67, was negligent in key safety precautions, contributing to the deadliness of the fire. “Mr. Boylan failed to conduct mandatory fire drills and crew training, and he did not post a federally required night watch or patrol,” the Times reported, quoting the indictment.
“The 33 passengers aboard the Conception, a 75-foot commercial scuba diving vessel, were sleeping below deck when the blaze began on a Labor Day weekend excursion to the Channel Islands … south of Santa Barbara,” the Times said, adding that the deaths were attributed to smoke inhalation. The Times said the Conception’s schematics showed that there was a single exit up to the galley; other reporting has suggested that there was also a second “escape hatch” above one of the bunks, though some former passengers said they were unaware of this emergency exit.
According to the Times, the National Transportation Safety Board said in October that “the fire had turned deadly in part because of the lack of a required night patrol; escape hatches that sent victims into the lounge, where the fire most likely broke out; and an absence of smoke detectors in the lounge.” The Times said that investigators could not determine the cause of the fire.
Each charge of “seaman’s manslaughter” carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.
After the disaster, we wrote, “Going forward, we encourage all boaters to let the officials do their jobs ….” Over time, we’ve learned about both criminal negligence and design and safety flaws that will no doubt be improved for the safety of future divers and boaters. The Conception fire was an unspeakable tragedy with devastating consequences for the victims and their families, but — we hope — the lessons learned will help all of us be more vigilant to avoid future calamities.
We recently bought a 1989 Sabre 38 MkII from Steve Curran at California Yacht Company in Long Beach, with the help of our friend and broker Jim Tull of Passage Nautical. The boat has been on Steve’s sales docks at Shoreline Marina in Long Beach. With the arrival of Thanksgiving, my wife and our two daughters decided to take our pod south for the weekend to get to know the boat and the Long Beach area. It was a treat.
Though we’ve lived in California since the early ’80s, we haven’t spent a lot of time in the L.A. area. We did attend some of the last, large Long Beach boat shows in the convention center when Costa Mesa was still pumping out thousands of racer/cruisers annually, but we don’t know the area well. Given the family travel schedule, getting to know the boat, and the fact that ‘it’s all new to us’, we didn’t go far. We daysailed out of Shoreline Marina, then sailed to Alamitos Bay to tie up at the COVID-quiet, empty guest docks of the Long Beach Yacht Club, where we ordered our delicious ‘takeout’ Thanksgiving dinner, and then sailed back to Shoreline. The good news is the boat worked great. The weather was fine (except for a blustery Santa Ana wind Thanksgiving night) and we loved sailing the boat.
Bay Area sailors may remember the boat, which was owned and sailed by Randy Pauling and family for years. After that she was bought by Matt Humphries, who sailed her in the 2017 Transpac with Paul Kamen navigating. The current plan is to keep her in SoCal for a couple of months before finding a weather window to bring her back north to the Bay.
We had a quiet sail down the Alamitos Bay channel and ghosted right up to the spacious LBYC guest docks. In normal times it would be bustling and we’d love to be there to see all those Sabots off the racks and in the water. While things were generally quiet, the waterway was filled with SUPs, Duffy electric boats, kayaks, paddleboards, pedal cat bikes, and swimmers. All fun.
Of the many things we could describe, one of them is how impressed we were with the Long Beach municipal marinas. According to Kimarie Vestre, marina supervisor at the Alamitos location, the Long Beach marinas are the largest municipal marina in the country, with 3400 slips split between the Shoreline and Alamitos Bay facilities. Despite Long Beach being a busy industrial port, the cityfront and Alamitos Bay marinas were immaculate, with clean grounds, restrooms/showers and laundry. A credit to both the city and the Long Beach Marina’s crew.
All in all it was a great, brief shakedown cruise. We got the stove working and became familiar with the chartplotter, the autopilot worked — put simply, the boat is an immense pleasure to sail. While we reveled in pleasant breezes for our three daysails, we didn’t find much traffic from the 3400 boats in the Long Beach Marina slips nearby.
We also had the boat hauled at Marina Shipyard for bottom painting, and they disassembled and greased all those thru-hulls we’d mentioned in our last post. They’re looking good.
We’ll be doing the passage north and south on I-5 a few times before we finally take the offshore route north sometime in the months ahead.
A Tale of Two Buoys
I brought my Ericson 26, Kestrel, back to Bodega Harbor after two weeks at the boatyard in Richmond. I spent the night at a slip in Sausalito and set the alarm for 0200 and an ebb current. I actually collided with two buoys in the dark. Two! How lucky can I get? I mean collided. Bent the pulpit a bit. They both skidded down the port side of the boat. Neither was lit. There’s the whole Bay and the f…… ocean, and I hit two buoys within an hour and a half. One: a yellow can (Coast Guard?), between the Sausalito Channel marker and the Golden Gate. Nice place to put an unlit floating hunk of metal.
Then two: N4 Red. “Unlit,” says the chart. It’s opposite Centissima Reef. I took Bonita Buoy to port and then put Duxbury in the GPS. Then “BOOM!” in the dark. Again. “Two,” I said out loud. “Two.” Ha, ha. I didn’t know then what was waiting for me on the other side of Point Reyes.
Wind and Waves
The wind may have hit some 20s in the gusts; it stayed in the high teens. Going straight with the waves was fast and difficult, off the quarter. There was lots of rocking. Bodega was due north. I jibed to put a little east in to get some relief near the Point Reyes beach. I was hoping for some shorter fetch in Bodega Bay, but no such luck. I jibed again past the Tomales Point bell buoy. I couldn’t see much in the fog, so I put ‘BOD ENT’ in my GPS. There were short periods of 2- to 3-ft waves. Every so often a couple of them would set together, and what seemed like two 6-footers, close together with a deep hole between them. My GPS course was beam to seas, so I’d head up in the easy swell and bear away when the big ones hit.
The NDBC Bodega Buoy reports for 1240 to 1540: Wind waves, 4.9-ft, 5.3 seconds, SSW, very steep. They aren’t lying. I may have worn out a bushing in my rudder post.
I can hardly type; the desk keeps rocking. Oh, more photos? Are you kidding? One hand on the tiller, the other grasping the closest stanchion till it hurt. Good old boat!
Notes from Kestrel’s Log for Friday, November 13, 2020
0230 cast off from Sausalito
0315 under the bridge
0345 Bonita Buoy
0550 Duxbury, flat water, SW breeze, boat speed 5+ knots, single reef and 4-hp outboard.
0900 Point Reyes, more wind, more waves, boat speed 6-8 knots, reefed main, no jib, no outboard.
1315 Bodega Harbor, gusts, rain.
Oh, and my car had electric problems on the way home.
On an early September evening, I was casually strolling past the Cal Sailing Club and Cal Adventures, and found, as always, both community clubs packed to the gills, in a socially distanced way, with happy sailors. This is the default vibe for the South Basin of Berkeley Marina.
There were, however, changes both unexpected and welcome.
The road between the clubs, lining the water’s edge, has been freshly paved where previously there had been old, craggy asphalt. The road itself has been widened, and the seawall lining the shore has been beefed up. There are new bike racks, and the new bathrooms, which had been built what seems like nearly three years ago, were open for use. Adjacent to the commodes is a new-ish rigging area — about four years old now — with artificial grass and hoses. Adjacent to the rigging area are a few shiny-new docks. The sidewalks at this end of the Marina are also freshly paved, and there are new benches. In general, there seem to be more people enjoying Berkeley Marina than ever before, which is due in no small part to the pandemic, where outdoor activities have exploded in popularity.
Lookin’ good, Berkeley Marina. Lookin’ good.
In 2019, we asked what’s next for Berkeley Marina, a well-used and much-loved part of the Bay Area waterfront that had fallen into disrepair. We are happy to report that the Marina has seen gradual upgrades, with more projects on the list.
Built in 1962, several docks in the Marina itself had recently “reached the end of their useful life” according to reports from the city. Last year we spoke with the Pegasus Project, a nonprofit providing youth sailing opportunities out of Berkeley Marina. “We have seen improvements on K-dock, and most importantly, replacement of the slip finger that was literally disintegrating under our feet last year,” Pegasus director Peter Hayes told us recently. (As an aside, Hayes said that Pegasus Voyages has been on pause since the beginning of the pandemic. “That said, we are optimistic. We have a new senior captain ready for the new season of training, the boat is in great shape, and the crew is motivated to get back out there.”)
There is still discussion about building a second hotel in the Berkeley Marina, which is an attractive project because of its potential to generate revenue to replenish the Marina’s coffers, otherwise known as the Enterprise Fund. The totality of the Marina’s operations and infrastructure is financed by this fund, which comes from tax revenues on Marina businesses, as well as slip fees. In 2019, the Enterprise Fund’s structural deficit, where spending exceeds revenues, reached $1 million. But in 2016, Berkeley voters overwhelmingly approved the “T1” bond measure, which injected $100 million into infrastructure upgrades for the Marina.
Latitude’s Paul Kamen was an advocate for building a hotel on the site of the shuttered-since-2018 Hs Lordships restaurant, though there doesn’t appear to be any momentum in that direction. According to recent city council meetings, there are potential lessees interested in renting the former Hs Lordships as a restaurant space. Any new renter would have to sink several million dollars into making the site usable; it currently costs the city some $200,000 a year to maintain the vacant building. Several sources have told us that the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, or BCDC, will not permit Hs Lordships to be torn down and rebuilt in its current configuration over the water.
Of particular interest is the informal launch next to Hs Lordships, a world-class setup for windsurfers given its beam-reach-oriented perch in the heart of the East Bay’s windline. This summer, the Hs Lordships launch also saw lots of swimmers and “wing boarders,” not to mention people fishing. When the conditions are right, SUPs and kayaks also have easy access to the Bay.
For over 20 years, local advocates have been pushing the city to invest in an improved launch ramp — a project that has, at times, generated some municipal momentum. More than 10 years ago, the project had gone through a design and environmental-review phase, but was ultimately nixed by a former city attorney who said that the launch wouldn’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. To be ADA compliant, ramps must have no more than a 5% grade, which takes enormous physical space to accomplish, and enormous amounts of money.
The new docks and ramps in the South Basin are ADA certified, and being in the lee of prevailing winds, are an objectively safer launch for kayakers with or without disabilities. Several sources believe that the South Basin is geographically close enough to Hs Lordships to effectively “count” as Berkeley’s ADA launch — though the question has not been formally decided. With a new city attorney at the helm, the hope is that a launch ramp, similar to the one recently built at Point Isabel in Richmond, can be constructed in a relatively cost-effective way. A steeper, narrower path made from asphalt instead of concrete, for example, could put the launch’s price tag at hundreds of thousands of dollars rather than millions.
The conventional wisdom is that the T1 funds will be not be available for the launch upgrade given the scope of delayed, pressing infrastructure projects. According to a 2018 City of Berkeley report, there was $10.3 million in urgent but unfunded capital projects, of which $3.45 was needed immediately to “make critical repairs to finger docks, pilings, electrical systems and restrooms.”
David Fielder, a windsurfer involved in East Bay politics who was instrumental in the Point Isabel project, said there is strong support for an updated windsurfing launch from Berkeley’s Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department, which manages the Marina. “I am encouraged by the willingness of city staff to consider working with us on this launch site.” Fielder believes that some of the money could come from other agencies, such as the California Coastal Conservancy, or the San Francisco Bay Trail project. “Documentation of usage of this world-class windsurfing site is critical,” Fielder added. “To help accomplish that, I’ve been asked to obtain copies of GPS tracks from as many users as possible.”
It’s important to remind ourselves that even a modest “launch” can serve as a year-round access point for a variety of users — including dog walkers and people just wanting to sit at the water’s edge — just as Point Isabel does. Anecdotally speaking, there has been a profound increase in the number of park users across a variety of activities. “Given ongoing sea-level rise and siltation in the South Basin, the Hs Lordships launch site will become increasingly vital for recreational access to the Bay,” Fielder said.
As we reported in last month’s Sightings, homeless settlements near the Marina remain an ongoing issue. Berkeley’s mayor recently tried to move the encampment at the entrance of the Marina into the Hs Lordships parking lot, which has been fenced off since 2018. The proposal was apparently shot down at the last moment by the BCDC, but the issue has not been permanently resolved.
Second to last in this story: University Avenue is set to be repaved in May. We had heard that the half-ish-mile-long stretch — which might have the dubious honor of being the bumpiest road in America — was scheduled to be resurfaced in 2020. The asphalt road has effectively sunk onto the old University Avenue pier upon which it was built, and currently feels like a roller coaster at a shoddy amusement park.
One of the largest projects under discussion at the Berkeley Marina is a proposed ferry terminal on what is now University Pier, which was closed in 2015 because of its deteriorating condition. First suggested in 2010, the new Berkeley terminal feels as if it’s inevitable.
We’ll discuss the project in an upcoming ‘Lectronic Latitude.