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March 26, 2021

The Mysterious Dismasting of Wingman

Wingman in Richardson Bay
This photo, sent to us by a reader, piqued our curiosity — and sympathy.
© 2021 Anya Bandt

Wingman’s Mast Crumples

“On Saturday, March 6, we were sailing in the Corinthian Yacht Club Midwinter race, headed to the weather mark at Point Diablo,” reports Jim Diepenbrock, owner of the Swan 44 Wingman. “We passed under the Golden Gate and tacked onto the port-tack layline. The true wind was 15-17 knots, and seas were calm with a 3-ft swell. We were in the remnants of a flood.

“Three or four minutes into the port tack, I saw the headstay fall off to leeward and then saw the top third of the mast collapse. I heard nothing. Some of the crew report hearing a pop and might have seen a metal part fly through the air. The headstay was slack, the jib was in the water, and the backstay was slack and mostly overboard, but the rig remained supported by the running backstay.

Wingman's mast top
Moments after Wingman’s mast folded at the top spreader.
© 2021 Jim Diepenbrock

The Crew Reacts

“We immediately turned downwind and checked on the crew status. Thankfully all were onboard and uninjured. We attached the inner forestay and tightened the port running backstay to attempt to keep the rig standing. We wanted to lower the sails, but the halyards were jammed in the mast crease and would not release, nor could we pull the sails down. We could not find a safe way to climb to the unsupported top of the mast and cut the halyards. Also, consider that the top 15 feet of mast was bent in half and hanging off to starboard over the water.

“We retrieved the angle grinder with a cutaway blade in case we needed to cut the shrouds. There was 15 feet of slack in the backstays and we could not get the sails down, so we prepared for the possibility of a total rig failure.”

Wingman motorsailing
Wingman motorsails back to Sausalito.
© 2021 Jim Diepenbrock

“Given no alternative, we checked for lines overboard and motorsailed to a dock in Sausalito,” continues Jim. “Once docked, we again tried to find a safe way to scale the mast, and determined it was time to call Ken Keefe at KKMI. Ken and his crane operators met us at KKMI, and we were able to release the halyards and lower the sails. The cause of the mast failure is unknown but will be determined when we get the mast out of the boat.”

Man on crane
A rigger hanging from the wire of a crane works on getting the sails down at KKMI’s boatyard.
© 2021 Jim Diepenbrock

In Retrospect

Jim shared his analysis of the incident with us. “What we got right: The entire rig had been removed and inspected, and all standing and running rigging replaced five months before the accident. We were prepared to cut the rig away from the boat with a grinder and a stack of cutaway blades. The crew was calm and efficient in spite of the circumstances. Before starting the motor, we did an exhaustive check to make sure no halyards, sheets or shrouds would foul the propeller.

“What we will consider: We were lucky not to be mid-ocean or in 30 knots of wind. I don’t know how we could lower the jib and a full batten mainsail without getting to the masthead to cut the halyard — this needs to be solved. Cutting the mast slides from the sail would have made matters worse as the top 1/3 would still be attached. The same is true of the jib. Perhaps your readers will have an answer?” Readers can enter a comment below.

Two Weeks Later

Jim gave us a call and said that the rigging company’s insurer, GEICO, is stepping up to pay the insurance claim, without further investigation into the cause of the rig failure. It appears to Jim, however, that the spreader cap came off, causing the shroud to come out of the spreader. Along with so much else, the spreader cap had been replaced last summer.

Offshore Spars is building Wingman a new carbon-fiber mast. It won’t be ready until August 1, so in the meantime, Jim says, “I have an 8-knot powerboat!”

Jim bought the 2001 Swan last July and spent about six months refitting everything. Wingman lives in Schoonmaker Point Marina; she’s the fourth Swan in Jim’s family. “Wingman will live to fight another day,” Jim told us.

Seeing Sailboats in ‘Down Under’ Tasmania

While Latitude 38 is, at its core, a West Coast sailing magazine, our crew come from and travel to various places around the globe — as sailors are inclined to do — and sometimes they’re able to get a glimpse of the local sailing life. Our ‘Lectronic editor is spending a little time in Tasmania, Australia, and snapped a few pics from various locations in the island-state’s northwest.

First stop, Strahan (pronounced Strawn). The fishing village is situated on the banks of Macquarie Harbour, known to locals to be three times the size of Sydney Harbour (already an enormous body of water.) Here we met Terris, known as “the crappy old bastard under a hat,” but his mates call him Terry — a fellow who has lived in Strahan all his life and is a third-generation local.

When we asked Terris when his boat would be finished and back on the water, he said, “The day after tomorrow. Gotta get off the slip for the next bloke.”
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Monica

Terry told us his boat had been built in South Australia in 1976, and although he doesn’t know its pedigree, his intention is to simply cruise it around the Harbour.

On the other side of the bay we spotted this sleek-looking beauty . .

The entrance to Macquarie Harbour is known as “Hells Gates.” A rock wall built in 1897 helps keep the shallow and dangerous channel open.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Monica

… and in the middle of the harbor, a vessel that looked as if it had fought its way in through the notorious “Gates.”

Macquarie Harbour is the spot where, in September, 450 pilot whales stranded themselves on a sandbar. Despite a concerted rescue effort, at least 380 of the whales died.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Monica

Then, in suburban Burnie, we met John Martin, who had built this sturdy little sailing skiff in his shed — a 16-ft Swampscott dory, originating in the Boston (USA) area.

“I built it between 2008 and 2012.” said John. “I sail it on the Mackintosh Lake, but mostly I use it for fishing.”

John’s boat is made from structural ply, with Oregon thwarts and eucalyptus gunwales and framing. Plus the 500 copper rivets that hold the planks in place.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Monica
Boatbuilding is part of John’s heritage, with his family’s first shipwright, William Davis, learning his trade on the Central Coast, New South Wales (mainland Australia), in the mid-1800s.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Monica

Later in the day, during a drive into Smithton on the Duck River, we were lured to the water’s edge by a pair of masts that made us believe we’d discovered a long-lost schooner.

There was no one around to tell us about Wild Wind, but she looks as if she’s had a long life thus far.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Monica
Motorsailers seem to be popular vessels in Australia. This boat’s aft deck was stacked high with old-style wooden crab or crayfish (lobster) pots.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Monica

We also met a sailor who, many years after spending almost a week tied up at Tiburon Yacht Club in 1972, spent several months circumnavigating the island of Tasmania — by all accounts, a voyage not designed for the faint-hearted.

Compass Realty: Corinthian Island

Compass Realty

This exquisite waterfront on Belvedere’s Corinthian Island was custom designed and built in 2008 for a well-known yacht racer.

Former Stanford Sailing Coach Vandemoer Tells His Story

In March 2019, we reported on former Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer’s being found guilty on one count of conspiracy to commit racketeering. His life was thrown into disarray when he was fired from his 11-year tenure as Stanford sailing’s head coach.

As we previously reported, Vandemoer, 41, had pleaded guilty to accepting bribes in exchange for recruiting two students to Stanford’s sailing team, even though they were not high-caliber athletes. Vandemoer is now preparing to release a book that tells the story of how he was “drawn unwittingly into a web of deceit.”

John Vandemoer was a well-credentialed coach, having trained Olympian and All-American sailors.
© 2021 Harper Collins Canada

In his book, titled Rigged Justice, Vandemoer tells how he was used “as a stooge in a sophisticated scheme designed to take advantage of college coaches and play to the endless appetite for university fundraising — and wealthy parents looking for an edge for their college-bound children.

“The next year of his life was a Kafkaesque hellscape, and though he was an innocent man who never received a dime was the first person to be convicted in what became known as the Varsity Blues scandal.”

Rigged Justice is due to be released on September 28, 2021. You can read the overview from publisher Harper Collins Canada here.

Bow Bling: The Hardware up Front

While walking the docks of the California Yacht Club, we couldn’t help noticing the jewels adorning the noses of the many boats in their slips. They range from simple to elegant, to fast and efficient. We didn’t meet the owners but guess the bling on the bow is a reflection of the owner and how they like to sail. We’re sharing some of our observations below, starting with the simple.

Simplicity rules on the bow of a catboat. Not much to worry about up here.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John
Martin 242
The California Yacht Club has a sweet-looking fleet of dry-sailed Martin 242s. It’s all about speed.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John
When uncovered, this elegant bow surely complements a stylin’ daysailer.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John
Sporty but
Sporty looks with multiple sail options suggests a performance sailor, but a large plow anchor makes for a fast pace to some good cruising.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John
The sleek and simple bow of the J/100 is for the pure pleasure of sailing.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John
Cal 2-46
A California classic. Robust and ready to take you anywhere in comfort. Can you name it?
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John
Shapely and refined, this Hinckley with jib sheet bags forward was looking smart.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John
Gehry at the helm, with Foggy's owner, Richard Cohen
Form and function. The stunning, fine-art bow of the Maine-built cold-molded sloop Foggy, according to Town & Country, is a stunning collaboration between renowned architect Frank Gehry and developer Richard Cohen. She’s a head-turner.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

There are dozens more variations on the theme, but from efficient sail handling to secure anchoring, a lot of important work gets done up there. We’d be happy to spend time sailing any one of these boats.


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