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February 10, 2023

Headwinds Facing Captain Donald Lawson and ‘Mighty Merloe/Defiant’

The last time we spoke with Donald Lawson — just a few months ago at October’s Annapolis Boat Show — he was gearing up to sail from Southern California to Hawaii and then attempt to break the singlehanded around-the-world sailing record. Seemingly full of optimism despite having put the boat on the bricks at Anacapa Island the month before, Lawson assured us the damage wasn’t bad and that he would be making repairs and then sailing to Hawaii to begin his around-the-world record attempt around February. These would serve as the first two attempts in an ambitious campaign to break nearly three dozen ocean sailing records over the course of the next decade.

So when well-known sailmaker and professional sailor Sylvain Barrielle posted photos of the famous ORMA 60 trimaran, formerly named Groupama 2 and Mighty Merloe, to his Facebook account on January 27, showing the boat looking pretty wrecked in Acapulco, Mexico, we were more than a little confused. With visible hull damage, exposed core, multiple headsails in tatters, a non-functioning engine, a missing bowsprit and a mainsail that was dumped into the cockpit, the boat’s condition had deteriorated significantly since it was in the Bay last summer; it was a sad sight to see, to say the least. We wanted to know more.

Defiant / Mighty Merlow
Defiant as seen in Acapulco, Mexico, over a week ago.
© 2023 Sylvain Barrielle

The more we dug, the more incomprehensible the story seemed to get. Without making any social media or website updates to announce his radical changes in plans or his departure from California, Donald and his wife Tory reportedly showed up in Cabo San Lucas around Christmastime with a laundry list of issues onboard their trimaran. This is where things get even more difficult to understand. Some social media posters were making claims of helping Lawson with gear and supplies and the boat being in a state of disarray, though Lawson is disputing these claims. Many posts and comments on social media have now been deleted and Lawson himself is now limiting, editing, or turning off comments on most of his social media posts, which makes things harder to track. After Lawson publicly swept the Anacapa grounding and subsequent tow under the rug and never made any public mention of it, we don’t know whom or what to believe.

ORMA 60 Defiant
Mighty Merloe, now named Defiant, seen last week in Acapulco, Mexico.
© 2023 Sylvain Barrielle

Lawson’s trimaran, now named Defiant, was reportedly headed to the Panama Canal and expected to be there around January 8. When we communicated with Donald via Instagram messenger over the last few days, we asked him what he was doing there and he replied that they’d stopped there as a result of damage, but had been en route to the Galápagos Islands. He is claiming that he and his wife hit multiple storms and also debris in the water, which resulted in hull damage and tattered sails. He was also reporting engine troubles and an inability to charge his batteries. Now in Acapulco, Mexico, and increasingly the subject of speculation and scrutiny on social media and internet sailing forums, Lawson says that he remains determined in his efforts to set solo ocean sailing records. As of this writing, he and his local team are reportedly already working on hull repairs as well as sail and motor repairs, while the boat remains in the water.

Captain Donald Lawson
Donald Lawson has done a nice job of promoting his record-breaking efforts and getting a very fast boat donated to his nonprofit, the Dark Seas Project. Breaking solo ocean records is proving far harder to accomplish than conducting speaking engagements, however.
© 2023 Dark Seas Project

We were skeptical when Donald first began his campaign aimed at setting 33 ocean sailing records, but we are eternal optimists and always root for the underdog. The fact that Lawson — who has never raced across an ocean in an organized race, crewed or solo, and has never crossed an ocean on a multihull of any sort — managed to start a nonprofit organization and get his hands on the fastest ORMA 60 ever built was an impressive start. We applaud Lawson’s efforts at promoting diversity, equality and inclusion in a sport that is rather pigment-deficient, but objectively speaking, his record-setting campaign is beginning to look like a very lofty dream that got way ahead of reality or possibility. ORMA 60s are fast, fickle beasts that died out as a class, the result of being too radical for even the best sailors on Earth to handle. And an ORMA 60 has never been in the Southern Ocean, where the leaders in the Golden Globe race are currently battling a 60-knot depression: enough breeze to flip an ORMA 60 that is under bare poles.

Mighty Merloe in happier days, seen here smashing the Transpac race record in 2017 while owned by Howard Enloe. ORMA 60s excel in point-to-point racing with a full crew aboard. One only has to look back to the 2002 Route du Rhum — the race that began the death of the ORMA class — when just three of 18 starters reached the finish line, with many boats either capsized or broken along the way.
© 2023 Sharon Green/ Ultimate Sailing

Donald Lawson is in the midst of repairing his trimaran to head for the Panama Canal, with the intention of hauling his boat in Baltimore in May to make proper repairs and continue preparations for a solo around-the-world record attempt.

Treasure Island Sunken Boat Mystery Solved by Coast Guard

Have you seen this? Last week we received an email from Latitude reader Craig Russell about a sunken boat off Treasure Island. Craig wrote, “Spotted this sunken boat on northeast corner of Treasure. Been there about six weeks. Do you have any info?”

Sunken boat
At least it’s clearly visible.
© 2023 Craig Russell

We then set about finding more information about the who, why, and how of the situation. The first and most successful thing we did was reach out to the US Coast Guard to see if they were aware of the sunken vessel and had any information. Jackpot!

Douglas Samp, USCG Search and Rescue Program Manager based in Alameda, told us the story.

“The operator had been moving from marina to anchorage area to marina, when the S/V went aground. USCG Sector San Francisco opened the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (OSLTF) on 12 Dec 2022 and a contractor removed 50 gallons of product from the vessel. The Port of San Francisco requested Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) to remove the vessel. ACOE intended to remove the vessel in January, then the storms arrived. The vessel waits for removal as the ACOE are removing more priority hazards along the navigation channels caused by the storms and run off.”

We know the Army Corps of Engineers has been busy; we see them on the Bay nearly every day, still cleaning up after January’s storms. So it’s not surprising there’s a backlog of debris to deal with.

Despite the obvious sadness of yet another sunken boat, someone found a way to make light of the situation. Douglas Samp also forwarded us a posting he had found on Craigslist.

sunken boat on craigslist
Let us know if you buy it, we’d love to hear your story!
© 2023

Celebrate Valentine’s Day in Style — Sail to Your Favorite Boat-in Restaurant

Have you checked your calendar recently, for events other than sailing? Though sailing can still come into it, next Tuesday is Valentine’s Day! When we saw this on our calendar we started looking for ways to celebrate that involve sailing. We were reminded about a story we shared in ‘Lectronic Latitude a couple of years ago — a marriage proposal, printed on a headsail! And while we’re not actually sure that it took place on Valentine’s Day, it did take place in February.

Grant and Angela on dock
She said yes!
© 2023 Grant Hamilton

Now, don’t get us wrong; we don’t expect you to go out and get your sails printed with messages of enduring love (though if you do, please remember us and send photos), but you can take your valentine out for a boat-in dining experience.

To help you out, we have a page dedicated to Boat-in Dining.

To make the grade on our website, the eatery in question must be within three blocks or so of a public dock, marina or yacht club. Which of course makes them super-convenient for sailors. The locations range from Sausalito to Vallejo, Antioch, Richmond, the Estuary, the South Bay and the Cityfront.

Take a look at the list, make your selection, and book your table. It’s one of the busiest dining days of the year, so don’t wait! See the list here.

Renewable Diesel vs. Biodiesel: What’s Your Experience?

We all love to raise our sails and harness the wind to push our boats along the water. Not only is it the coolest thing ever, but it’s also an economical and environmentally friendly way to travel. But the reality is that, somewhere along the way, we usually need to fire up the diesel engine. Plus, many of us also have an engine-driven dinghy. So in keeping with the idea of “cool” and “environmentally friendly,” what is your preferred fuel type?

We recently received an email from Jan Grygier presenting a scenario of using renewable diesel versus biodiesel. Jan, a 2010 Baja Ha-Ha vet, sails out of Richmond Yacht Club aboard both his Catalina 42 Neener3 and his Santana 22 Albacore.

Jan refers to an article from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), which says that most of the renewable diesel has historically been consumed on the West Coast.

The point of the article is to inform us that “US production capacity for renewable diesel could more than double from current levels by the end of 2025, based on several announcements for projects that are either under construction or could start development soon.” The question now is, how will that be advantageous over biodiesel?

energy chart
The EIA wrote: “An average of 520,000 b/d of distillate fuel oil was consumed on the West Coast in 2021.”
© 2023 U.S. Energy Information Administration

Jan says he gets renewable diesel from the 7-11 gas station on Cutting Blvd., close to the RYC, and he says it’s also available at Pittsburg Marina. He says that one advantage of renewable diesel over biodiesel is that it can be used in diesel engines up to 100%, whereas biodiesel cannot. “When I took a diesel mechanics class at a boat show some years back the advice was NEVER put biodiesel in an old diesel engine, as it dissolves gunk and then deposits it right where you least want it (he shared a horror story from Sweden),” Jan wrote.

The EIA writes, “Renewable diesel is a fuel that is chemically equivalent to petroleum diesel and nearly identical in its performance characteristics. The same is not true of biodiesel, which is chemically different from petroleum diesel. Renewable diesel’s chemical equivalence to petroleum diesel gives it a couple of advantages over biodiesel. One advantage is that producers can distribute renewable diesel in petroleum diesel pipelines. A second advantage is that traditional diesel engines can consume any blend level of renewable diesel, including pure renewable diesel, with no significant side effects. In contrast, biodiesel can only be blended into petroleum diesel between 2% and 20% of the diesel fuel by volume.”

In his email, Jan expressed interest in other sailors’ experiences with renewable and/or biodiesel fuels. And we’re now curious too. What is your experience with either of these fuel products? Are they easily purchased? Have you had to make alterations to your engine systems to accommodate either? Leave your response in the comments below or email us at [email protected].

If you (like this writer) know very little about renewable diesel and biodiesel, take the time to familiarize yourself with what the EIA wrote, and then perhaps do a little more research. We’d love to hear your opinions. You can read the full article here.

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