A search is underway in the Sea of Cortez for Marina del Rey sailor William ‘Bill’ Walter Austin III, after his Fountaine Pajot 39, The Cat, was found washed up on a beach north of Nopolo, near Loreto, on March 12. Austin’s personal belongings, including his identification and his dog Stogie, were found on board the boat. Maritime communities, both local and on social media, are rallying to help find the missing sailor.
Austin was reportedly seen departing San Carlos on Monday, March 7, headed for La Paz. The last time his family knew of his wherabouts he was anchored near Painted Rocks Cove on Isla Carmen. An updated post on the Facebook page San Carlos Sonora Residents reported that a couple had spoken with Austin in Punta San Basilio on Wednesday morning, and that there are reports of photos taken in San Bruno that show The Cat in the background.
We understand the search is being coordinated by Mexico’s Municipal Civil Protection, State Civil Protection, and other agencies, and is now focused between Punta San Basilio and the San Bruno area, north of Loreto. A pedestrian search is also underway along esplanades and beaches.
This morning we found what appears to be a press release posted by Javier Chávez Davis that says there has been no success in locating Austin, that the search is continuing today, and that there are fears Austin fell overboard due to strong winds that have appeared in recent days.
A further update at 11:00 a.m. advises that a plane search along the coastline between Punta San Basilio and San Bruno was unsuccessful in locating the missing mariner. It is possible that he went for help on land, and search efforts are now being focused farther inland in that same area.
Austin had sailed to Mexico last year with the Baja Ha-Ha. Unfortunately the rally’s organizers have no further information about his travels after the Ha-Ha. Many West Coast sailors and Latitude 38 readers frequent these waters; perhaps some of you met or sailed with Austin.
If you are able to add any information to the search efforts, you are asked to call 6121679946 (Mexico: +52) Municipal Civil Protection Offices, State Civil Protection, Puerto Loreto Captain or ENSAR.
Cal Maritime set the tone for the 2022 Port of Los Angeles Harbor Cup-California Maritime Academy Invitational Intercollegiate Regatta, logging the first bullet of the event. The Keelhaulers continued to dominate in three thrilling days of racing in the waters off San Pedro on March 11-13. Los Angeles Yacht Club hosted the Cup. The University of Hawaii finished second, with UC Santa Barbara third.
This year marked Cal Maritime’s eighth victory in this prestigious coed big-boat competition. The Keelhaulers bolted out the gate with three bullets on the first blustery day of racing. By Day 2 they had declared their dominance, with a 13-point lead.
After two exceptional days of racing on Friday and Saturday, Sunday opened light — due largely to the time change. “Mother Nature does not observe daylight saving time,” noted PRO Tom Trujillo. Races were postponed until 12:35, with 5 knots of breeze from the south. The course was twice around. When the fleet split at the leeward gate, Hawaii took the lead and did not let go. The Rainbows finished first in Race 9, followed by the Navy Midshipmen and UCSB Gauchos.
Cal Maritime had been OCS at the start, but rebounded and finished fourth. By then, they had all but guaranteed their victory. However, a fierce fight for silver and a battle for bronze ensued.
Conditions continued to test the fleet into the final race. Several boats did not make the pin end of the startline, and URI grazed the buoy, necessitating a penalty turn. For the final match, Trujillo had called for a three-lap race of half-mile legs in building, shifting breeze. The Rainbows, third around at the first windward mark, gained on the downwind and overtook their opponents to grab hold of the lead, crossing the line first in Race 10. The Keelhaulers finished second, locking up first overall, and the College of Charleston Cougars third.
Cal Maritime skipper Kyle Collins said he felt “pretty good, a little tired, and very relieved,” at the victory. “Honestly, it was a little stressful! We had really great competition, and going into it we had had some shifts in crew and positions. So there was a lot of unknown. But after a while, it was pretty clear we would be able to work it all out.” Work it out they did, with five firsts in 10 races.
Collins added, “Cal Maritime is such an incredible school. We’re always traveling to the East Coast to race, but to be here so close to home, with so many supporters, was cool. I have had the opportunity to sail in hundreds of regattas all over the world, and this is the easiest and smoothest for competitors to come to. We show up, we race these great boats, we get fed and given places to stay, and everyone is so friendly. A big thank you to everyone who makes this possible.”
University of Hawaii clinched second place, thanks to steady improvement over the three-day event. The Rainbows have competed in Harbor Cup five times in 14 years. A native of Los Angeles, Kelsie Grant is a crewmember on the Hawaii team. She was thrilled to show off her home club. “I loved being able to share LAYC with my Hawaii crew and friends. It made me really proud of my LAYC roots.”
LAYC staff commodore Jim Morgan said the event was conceived in 2007 after Cal Maritime competed in the Naval Academy’s Kennedy Cup regatta (which Cal Maritime won in 2021). “Bill Eisenhardt was president of Cal Maritime then, and asked, ‘Why in the world don’t we have an event like that on the West Coast?’ So I jumped on it,” Morgan exclaimed. He secured the use of the Catalina 37 fleet from the Long Beach Sailing Foundation — the same boats used in the Congressional Cup.
Morgan explained that each year, the Harbor Cup committee selects four East Coast teams, four West Coast teams, and two ‘President’s picks’ from a large number of applicants. “There are only 10 boats.”
The Harbor Cup is the only intercollegiate big-boat event where competitors are completely hosted. “LAYC really steps up to the plate with lodging, meals, boats and hospitality. There’s no cost to competitors once they show up,” Morgan pointed out. “It’s the only ‘offshore’ event actually held on the ocean.” It also encourages environmental awareness and stewardship, and helps transition small-boat and dinghy sailors into a post-college sailing platform and envision the sport of sailing as a lifelong experience.
Morgan was the Port of Los Angeles director of Port Construction and Maintenance during Harbor Cup’s introduction in 2008. He has since retired. “It’s my favorite weekend of the year.”
“Hosting the Harbor Cup is really exciting,” added Kelly Marie, commodore of LAYC. “It brings a lot of joy to a lot of people — the sailors, the volunteers, club members and staff — everyone involved in putting this on for the students. Plus, my son goes to Cal Maritime.”
For complete results and more info, see www.layc.org.
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In the economic counterattack launched by the Western world against Russia for its savage invasion of Ukraine, the world has become a kind of repo man for yachts, and ordinary people are getting in on the hunt. A vessel tied to Vladimir Putin seems to be on the chopping block, and the fleet of extravagant, oligarch-owned vessels may be the result of funds embezzled from the Russian military, which some say is slowing its senseless assault on Ukraine.
“From Germany’s North Sea ports to the French Riviera, open season has been declared on superyachts,” the New York Times wrote. “Across Europe, authorities are hunting down luxury vessels tied to Russian oligarchs in the effort to inflict pain on President Vladimir Putin’s allies.”
Last week, the US Department of Justice announced the formation of the Task Force KleptoCapture, which will target the “proceeds from ‘the crimes of Russian oligarchs,'” according to NBC News. “We are coming for your ill-begotten gains,” declared President Biden in last week’s State of the Union address, in the most unlikely pirate-rallying cry of all time.
In the crosshairs are Russian-owned yachts.
Using sites like VesselFinder, MarineTraffic or SuperYachtFan — all of which use a vessel’s AIS signal — “casual fans of financial retribution are following the location of oligarchs’ ships and jets, often hoping to catch them on the run or docked in a country likely to seize them,” the Washington Post reported.
Yacht-tracking sleuths say that Russian-owned megayachts have become a clear object that people can focus their anger and attention on. “There’s a symbolic power that the yacht holds in the West’s campaign to rein in the power of Vladimir Putin and his global kleptocracy,” one yacht activist (yachtivist?) told the Post.
Here are some of the vessels that have been ensnared in the West’s repo campaign:
A superyacht believed to be linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin is currently in a dry dock, and under international scrutiny, in Italy, according to the New York Times. The 459-ft, $700 million Scheherazade reportedly made trips to Sochi — said to be Putin’s pandemic getaway town — in the summers of 2020 and 2021.
Dilbar, one of the world’s biggest megayachts, belonging to Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov, has apparently been seized in Hamburg, Germany, and the crew has been terminated, according to Forbes. SuperYachtNews reported that some of Usmanov’s assets, including two of his helicopters and his private Airbus A340 plane, had been deregistered from their “home port” of the Isle of Man on March 3.
Italian officials seized the famously ugly S/Y A, believed to belong to Russian billionaire Andrey Igorevich Melnichenko, according to the Huffington Post. (Some years ago, we entertained a debate as to whether SV A was the largest superyacht of its time.)
Back in 2010, we reported that Melnichenko was also the owner of the 394-ft motoryacht, also called A, which certainly has a similarly harsh aesthetic to S/Y A‘s. It’s not clear if the other A has been seized by authorities.
Rounding out our tour of oligarchs, Latitude founder Richard Spindler wrote about Roman Abramovich, the embattled owner of the Chelsea Football Club, in 2009. “Abramovich’s navy includes the brand-new 525-ft Eclipse, which at $300 million is said to be both the largest and most expensive private yacht in the world. (Ridiculous.); the 282-ft Ecstasea, the largest Feadship ever built; the 370-ft Le Grand Bleu; and the 163-ft Sussurro, which is used as a tagalong yacht.”
Abramovich’s 458-ft Solaris was apparently on the run from the repo man, and “slipped out of Barcelona port [last week] where it was being maintained, and headed southeast,” according to the Evening Standard.
“A former Russian foreign minister claimed that widespread corruption was among the reasons for the Russian military’s apparently poor performance in the invasion of Ukraine,” Business Insider reported.
“The Kremlin spent the last 20 years trying to modernize its military. Much of that budget was stolen and spent on megayachts in Cyprus. But as a military advisor you cannot report that to the president. So they reported lies to him instead,” the former foreign minister was quoted as saying.
A foreign-relations expert said that Russia’s rampant corruption meant that their troops were “going into battle in Ukraine with out-of-date rations, faulty equipment, and inadequate fuel supplies,” Insider reported.
News outlets are calling it a “joy ride,” but it was like a scene out of a bad action movie, or a perverted, nonconsensual demolition derby. Last week, a man described as “out of his wits” stole a 60-ish-ft motoryacht and rammed into docked boats in Newport Beach. One person was injured, and local news said that “many high-end boats were damaged.”
The crashy pirate was identified as 38-year-old Joel Praneet Siam from San Diego; he’s said to be a CEO, and is being held on $3 million bail, according to the Daily Mail. Reports said that Siam had damaged cars before stealing the boat. “He was seen being escorted by police wearing an orange life vest and wind-swept hair as he entered the squad car barefoot.”
In the initial ramming crash, a sailboat was struck broadside, crumpling the mast instantly and pancaking the starboard side. A person was apparently inside the boat. “The entire side came crashing in on me and it didn’t stop,” Debora Dolly was quoted as saying. She was taken to the hospital with a possible head injury. (The sailboat was docked near A’maree’s boutique and the Rusty Pelican restaurant, according to reports.)
Police haven’t confirmed if Siam was under the influence, but news reports said that a half bottle of tequila onboard was gone. “I saw the guy freaking out and then he was screaming,” a witness told the news.
Clearly, Siam was suffering a severe breakdown.
“Something with this kind of damage is an isolated incident and is pretty rare,” a sheriff’s officer was quoted as saying.