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September 17, 2021

Racing Thrills on Merlin at Rolex Big Boat Series

We were pleased to be invited to race aboard the 71.5-ft sled Merlin on the first day of Rolex Big Boat Series. The experience did not disappoint. The legend of Merlin began when the long, lean sled emerged from a chicken coop in 1977. Designed and built by Bill Lee of Santa Cruz, she revolutionized yacht racing on the West Coast.

Crew of Merlin
At the dock after practice on windy Wednesday afternoon. Back row left to right: Kip Wanaselja, John Pytlak, Ryan Kern, John Hayes, Karen Loutzenheiser, Miro Kaffka, and one of three guests from Santa Cruz that day, Matt Fraseur. Front row left to right: Hannah Weymuller, Theresa Brandner, Orlando Montalvan, Chris Watts, owner Chip Merlin, and boat captain Brian Malone. Missing is Doug Grant, who was driving up from Los Angeles.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

She’s been a sleek cat with at least five lives, having been reinvented that many times since her birth. Current owner Chip Merlin of the Tampa Bay area in Florida has restored her retro looks, but with lots of weight-sparing carbon fiber. Her spinnakers have the panels arranged in a ’70s-style rainbow, but they’re modern asymmetrical kites.

Checking in
ORR entries check in on Thursday morning for the Treasure Island course.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

The start of yesterday’s first race was delayed, although the wind was already in the teens by 11 a.m. The course sent us on a double windward-leeward, with a windward mark set up near the Golden Gate Bridge and a leeward gate down by the start and finish lines west of Treasure Island. Merlin sported a J2 jib in the first race.

Paul Dorsey’s Fast 40 Adjudicator was among the competition in ORR B. That’s Daniel Thielman’s Melges 32 Kuai in the background.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

Merlin’s motion through the water is smooth, stable and fast. She reacts quickly to puffs. She clocked 9 knots upwind and 15 downwind and finished first in her division, ORR B. But her ratings guaranteed that she’d be bested on corrected time. She was made to sail in one direction for a long, long time, not to race around the buoys.

In the afterguard: main trimmer Chris Watts (who came with the boat), the quiet and focused skipper Chip Merlin, and Brian Malone calling tactics.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

The second race was delayed even more. The wind direction had shifted, and the race committee reset the start line. This delay proved fortunate for Merlin. After the finish of the first race and at some point during a sandwich-and-water break, the crew saw that the mainsail track had begun to pull out from the carbon mast. They jumped into action and lashed the track to the mast, allowing us to start and finish the second race. The J3 would be the weapon of choice for the beats.

Sail ties serve many purposes.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris
cockpit crew at the start
The cockpit crew at the start of the second race.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

This course took us on a lap around Blackaller Buoy off Crissy Field, down to an R2 buoy, then out the Gate to a drop mark just below Point Diablo. After the rounding it was quick work to get the gun at the finish off St. Francis Yacht Club.

crew waving
It’s always fun to get the gun!
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

The wind cranked up into the high teens with stronger gusts. In the bigger puffs, the boat was on her ear, water washing over the decks. A reef in the main would have helped — and wouldn’t have hurt boat speed — but with the track lashed to the mast reefing wasn’t possible. The runs were a blast — the boat speed seemed to match the wind speed.

Merlin at the finish
Merlin crosses the race deck finish line in Race 2. And no, this photo has not been stretched!
© 2021

Racing continues with two more races today and tomorrow, and one final Bay Tour before the awards (and the bestowing of three Rolex timepieces) on Sunday afternoon.

Hosting yacht club St. Francis has a proof-of-vaccine requirement for entry into the clubhouse. The big parties are still on but outdoors. It’s good to be back!

Excellent News Out of Bahia Santa Maria for Ha-Ha Fleet

The Grand Poobah is busy preparing for the 27th Baja Ha-Ha rally’s November 1 launch in San Diego. Along with organizing tables and chairs for the expected 500 or so party guests, he’s also been confirming arrangements for the events and parties that will be held in various locations throughout the fleet’s two-week, 750-mile-long journey.

To this end, the Poobah has shared some good news from Bahia Santa Maria.

“Our longtime host Victor, at left in the photo below, reports that everybody in the Mexican village of Mateo Lopez, where all the hosts for the Ha-Ha BSM rock ‘n’ roll party come from, has been vaccinated. And that there are currently zero COVID cases in Mateo Lopez.”

Ha-Ha BSM party
These guys are smiling for good reason.
© 2021 Baja Ha-Ha

“Similarly, all our dear friends from La Paz who have played in the band for so many years have been vaccinated, too. Victor says everyone is very excited for the arrival of the Ha-Ha fleet, and that they’ll have plenty of ice-cold beer, lots of freshly cooked lunches — and plenty of gel!”

Bahia Santa Maria is just one of the spectacular anchorages that await Ha-Ha sailors.
© 2021 Baja Ha-Ha

The 27th Baja Ha-Ha kicks off just over six weeks from now. We’re seeing the signs of preparation and planning all over the Bay Area. The other day, we caught our neighbors cleaning their dinghy and painting its bottom. They did a good job of it too!

Are you signed up, and if so, what are you doing to prepare for this year’s Baja Ha-Ha?

Skippers Wanted: US Coast Guard-Licensed Captains for Charters and Private Lessons

Wanted: US Coast Guard-licensed captains for charters and private lessons. For power & sail. Hourly rate from $50 up. Weekend and weekday work available.

1160 Brickyard Cove Road, Suite 21, Richmond, California 94801 • (510) 236-2633 • [email protected]

When Sailors Launch a Rescue Mission

How much fun is it to stop and chat with fellow sailors? Without fail, this is the best way to not only share knowledge and tips about everyone’s favorite pastime, but to also hear some fun stories. The trick is knowing how to distinguish a true event from a salty tale.

At the recent Latitude 38 Crew List Party (already a week ago!) we met sailors Sean Kolk and Kate Schnippering, who told us a good little yarn that we want to share with you. And in this case we believe it to be true.

Sean and Kate were spending some time in the Pacific Northwest catching up on a little kayaking, hiking, and of course, sailing. While relaxing on a hilltop along the coast of Whidbey Island, watching the sea, the couple spotted a sailboat drifting offshore.

drifting sailboat
What would you do if you saw a sailboat adrift?
© 2021 Sean Kolk

“I called the Coast Guard, and they said they knew about it (and to call back if anything changed),” Sean told us. “I didn’t like the idea of ‘someone should do something,’ so I kayaked out to the boat.”

The 32-ft sloop had pulled its anchor, and Sean had to paddle three or four nautical miles in a three-ft swell, at around dusk. By the time he reached the boat Sean was already quite wet, and cold. He hauled himself aboard, then raised the main and pointed the boat to the nearby marina at Langley, which was still around two nm away.

sailors rescue boat
Heading to shore beneath a darkening sky.
© 2021 Sean Kolk

“I updated the Coast Guard on the way, and they put me in touch with the off-island owner. He said the boat was at anchor while he was earning money to repair the engine, while living out of his van after beating up [the coast] for three days and not making it to his destination.”

Meanwhile, Kate had made her way to the marina and organized a few locals to help bring in the sailboat. “I was singlehanded and coming into a new marina trying to communicate at dusk,” Sean continued. “Two dinghies steered us to a mooring ball behind a breakwater.”

There’s always time for a selfie, especially when there’s a magnificent sunset going on behind you.
© 2021 Sean Kolk

After tying off and taking himself and his kayak off the boat, Sean loaded the kayak onto his wife’s car and drove back to their accommodations. “The owner said he was coming to get his boat the next day, and when I came back two days later, it was gone.”

It was fortunate for the sloop owner that Sean and Kate were nearby. Being sailors themselves, the couple were quick to react and knew precisely how to bring the boat in safely.

Sean told us he has been sailing in the Bay since 2012, and both sea and whitewater kayaking since 2007. “I learned to sail on a Coronado 25, out of the Alameda Estuary with the Washed Up Yacht Club, and have been racing out of Berkeley, South Beach, and Richmond, and with Cal Sailing.

“My wife and I chartered around Europe, the Indian Ocean, and Mexico until we decided to buy our own Catalina 36 last year, and plan to sail with the Baja Ha-Ha this coming November.”

If you’re signed up for the Baja Ha-Ha, keep an eye out for this cool couple and their Catalina, Petrichor.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Monica

Do you have a rescue story to share? Send it to [email protected].

It’s a Good Weekend for a Chantey Sing

Yesterday we were reminded of a fun event that’s happening tomorrow — the San Francisco Maritime National Park Association and San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park are hosting their monthly Chantey Sing. And while we’re usually the first to encourage everyone to leave the house and go sailing, we acknowledge that the Bay Area’s current, cooler (OK, let’s say it out loud: “cold”) weather might deter some of the less-salty sailors among us.

Did you know that the term “sea chanteys” is usually used to describe work songs — short, with rhythmic and easy-to-remember lyrics that would be sung by sailors while engaging in repetitive tasks, like hauling lines or turning a capstan? We have found suggestions that sea chanteys originated in the 16th century, which does make some sense as almost every onboard job back then would have required strenuous repetition.

However, this weekend’s sea chanteys will be sung by people who will probably be sitting somewhere comfortable while sipping on a hot drink, or for the cheeky sailors, perhaps even an early lunchtime aperitif. That’s right, this chantey sing is virtual, and it’s free.

How did we come to be reminded of this event? Thanks for asking. While scrolling through our social media feed, for professional purposes of course, we were drawn to a photo posted on Facebook by the S.F. Maritime NHP. The photo shows the C.A. Thayer and the Matthew Turner bow-to-bow during a haulout that the two ships underwent late last year.

CA Thayer and Matthew Turner bowsprits
New kid on the block Matthew Turner nestled under ‘the old man’ – the C.A. Thayer’s bowsprit. It was almost like a parent looking down on its child.
© 2021 John Skoriak

But what really kept our attention was the great conversation that was imagined between the two classic Bay Area ships, by the crew from the maritime park.

C.A. Thayer: ‘It’s been ages! How’ve you been?’

Matthew Turner: ‘It’s been a while. You know how it is. The pandemic.’

C.A Thayer: ‘Yeah. It’s like waiting out the doldrums. I’m thinking about Wellness for the crew … I’ve got just the thing, Matey. There’s a monthly Chantey Sing every third Saturday at 11 a.m. Want to go? It’s free.

Matthew Turner: ‘Yeah? How? Can I invite the crew?’

C.A. Thayer: ‘Invite anyone you like. As I remember it, they sing a salty chantey.'”

So how about it folks; who’s in for a Chantey Sing this weekend? Here are the details:

Saturday, September 18, at 11 a.m.

For details on how to join in, follow the link at

Chantey sing aboard CA Thayer
A scene from a live chantey sing aboard C.A. Thayer — pre-pandemic days.
© 2021 SF Maritime Association

Oh, and from looking at the photos on the Chantey page, it appears you can even play your own instrument while you sing. Bonus!

COVID Cautious but Ready to Race
St. Francis Yacht Club is welcoming hundreds of skippers, crews, spectators and helpers back to San Francisco for the Rolex Big Boat Series.
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